Most People Breathing Unhealthy Air

Air Pollution An Extreme Threat To Public Health

By Mike Ives, The New York Times

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that 92 percent of people breathe what it classifies as unhealthy air, in another sign that atmospheric pollution is a significant threat to global public health.

A new report, the W.H.O.’s most comprehensive analysis so far of outdoor air quality worldwide, also said about three million deaths a year — mostly from cardiovascular, pulmonary and other noncommunicable diseases — were linked to outdoor air pollution. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths are in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region, compared with 333,000 in Europe and the Americas, the report said.

air pollution Beijing

“When you look out through the windows in your house or apartment, you don’t see the tiny little particles that are suspended in the air, so the usual perception is that the air is clean,” Rajasekhar Balasubramanian, an air quality expert at the National University of Singapore who was not involved in the study, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

“But the W.H.O. report is a clear indication that even in the absence of air pollution episodes, the concentrations of particles suspended in the air do exceed what’s considered to be acceptable from a health viewpoint,” he said.

In previous studies, the W.H.O. estimated that more than eight in 10 people in urban areas that monitored air pollution were breathing unhealthy air and that about seven million deaths a year were linked to indoor and outdoor pollution.

The new study reduced the second estimate to 6.5 million deaths. But María P. Neira, director of the W.H.O.’s Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a telephone interview that “the trends are still going in the wrong direction.”

“Somebody has to pay for those health systems to sustain the treatment and the care for those chronic patients, and this is something that countries need to balance when they make decisions about the sources of energy they are selecting or the choices they make in terms of public transport,” Dr. Neira said. “These economic costs of health have to be part of the equation.”

The W.H.O. study was conducted by dozens of scientists over 18 months and was based on data collected from satellites, air-transport models and ground monitors in more than 3,000 urban and rural locations, agency officials said Tuesday.

greenhouse gas and climate change

The agency defined unhealthy air as having concentrations of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, above 10 micrograms per cubic meter, or 35.3 cubic feet, but it did not measure concentrations of ozone, nitrous oxide or other harmful pollutants.

The study said that major drivers of global air pollution included inefficient energy use and transportation but that nonhuman factors, such as dust storms, also played a role.

Professor Balasubramanian said it was an open question whether countries in Southeast Asia, a region that has densely packed cities and struggles to combat cross-border pollution, would choose to improve urban air quality by switching to cleaner fuels in their power plants, as Western European countries did several decades ago.

Prolonging the decisions will probably increase the health risk from air pollution, he said, because the region’s population is rising and demanding more energy.

About 300 million children in the world breathe highly toxic air, the United Nations Children’s Fund said in a new report. The vast majority of these children, about 220 million, live in South Asia, in places where air pollution is at least six times the level that the World Health Organization considers safe, Unicef said.

Air Pollution News via

Rooftop Gardens Help Mexico City Fight Air Pollution

Plants Cleaning The Air, Sheltering Buildings

In a sheltered corner of one of the greatest megacities on Earth, there is a place where lizards careen around tree trunks, butterflies drink nectar from vermillion flowers and hummingbirds whisk the heavy air with their wings. Stand in the botanical gardens of the Bosque de Chapultepec (the Chapultepec forest) and listen carefully enough, and something remarkable happens: birdsong begins to pierce the groan of trucks and the screech of taxi horns from the long avenue that bisects the park.

mexico city rooftop garden
Mexico City’s rooftop gardens provide food and shelter, while absorbing CO2 from the air. City’s around the world are leading the green revolution for both efficiency and resiliency.

The gardens are home to one of a growing number of azoteas verdes – or green roofs – that are springing up around Mexico City as part of the metropolis’s efforts to purge its air of the pollution that has long been among its least-desired claims to fame.

The azotea verde atop the circular single-story offices of the botanical gardens, is planted with hardy stonecrop, which can withstand the Mexico City summer, but which also produces oxygen and serves as a filter to draw out the carbon dioxide and heavy metal particles in the air. As well as providing the park’s squirrels with an arena in which to practise their parkour, the roof help regulates the temperature of the offices below and soaks up rainwater to keep the building dry.

Last year, the city’s environment secretariat spent almost $1m (£595,000) on the azoteas verdes project, bringing the total area of green roofs in hospitals, schools and government buildings to 21,949 sq m. This year, the investment will rise by a third.

Mexico City’s environment secretary, Tanya Müller, says: “In a city like ours where urban development puts pressure on the space we have at ground level, we have to take advantage of our rooftops to create a green urban infrastructure.”

The green roofs do far more than simply purify the air: they reduce the “heat island effect”, teach children about nature and speed up the recuperation rates of hospital patients, she adds. A little way across town, not far from the city’s ancient heart, the Zócalo, sits the secretariat’s air-monitoring lab. It too has been given over to greenery and from its neatly planted roof, where dedicated staff congregate for lunchtime exercise classes, the haze that blankets the capital is plain to see. It smudges the outlines of distant towerblocks, as well as the mountains that enclose the city and its 21 million inhabitants.

But, as Müller is keen to point out, fighting air pollution demands rather more technological solutions than sowing seeds on rooftops. Her glass-and-steel office, which overlooks the Zócalo, feels like a curious hybrid of an internet startup office and an architectural practice. On the wall by her desk is an enormous screen with a live Twitter feed and electronic maps showing the temperature and ozone levels of Mexico City and the surrounding area. On a wet April afternoon, the ozone levels are creeping above the normal levels, but other pollutants are within the usual range.

“I have this dashboard on my smartphone and it’s the same dashboard as the department of air monitoring has and the mayor has,” Müller says. “We know how the air quality is every day and whether we have to take decisions.” Readings from the 29 air-monitoring stations in the city and the surrounding state of Mexico can trigger a variety of responses. If pollution levels are seriously high and remain so for 48 hours, the environment secretariat’s Hoy No Circula (No driving today) ban kicks in, and those cars with registration plates of a certain colour and two-digit code are not allowed on the roads. Anyone found driving when they shouldn’t be has their plates taken away and must pay what Müller describes as a very harsh fine of 20 days’ pay based on the Mexico City minimum wage. “Even though the measures aren’t very popular – we’re the first administration not to have suspended Hoy No Circula for any holiday – they are very responsible,” she adds proudly. Unsurprisingly, Müller, who cycles to work, is a big fan of pedal power. The two mountain bikes parked in a rack outside her office, up the stairs from the Diego Rivera murals that decorate the walls, suggest that her staff are too.

By expanding the city’s Metro system and investing in the Ecobici bike hire scheme – which is used for about 26,000 journeys a day – she hopes to wean people off their dependence on cars. “We still have a long way to go: although 80% of the population uses public transport, the city is still very car-orientated,” Müller says. “What we’re trying to do is make people conscious of how you use you car: it has to be in a much more rational and responsible manner.”

Other initiatives to improve the city’s air quality over the past two decades – such as moving refineries beyond its boundaries and introducing cleaner buses – appear to be paying off. Between 1990 and 2012, levels of ozone fell from 43 parts per billion to 27 parts per billion; sulphur dioxide from 55 parts per billion to five parts per billion, and carbon monoxide from 84 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

Muller says air quality is her priority “because it has an impact on your health and that obviously has consequences for your quality of life”. She adds: “We’re working on air quality and climate change together, because whatever we do for air quality and emissions will have a positive effect on climate change. At the end of the day, we want a city that can offer better quality of life for its citizens.”

Mexico City’s efforts to clean up its act have not gone unnoticed; Müller recently met officials from Tehran who wanted to compare notes, while members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have also shown interest in the city’s smartphone apps.

As Mexico begins to shrug off its smog and attendant grimy reputation, Müller believes its strategies could help cities further north. “What’s very interesting for us is what’s happening right now in Paris and London: we somehow have this perception that in these very developed, first-world European cities with great transport and infrastructure, you’ve overcome these issues of air quality,” she says.

“But we’re seeing that it’s not so. The origin and the problem is the same: it’s the use of private automobiles. People need to know that even if you have a great public transport system, if you do not rationalize private car use, you’re going to have problems.”


Suzuki Sees Hope On Climate Change

Sustainability Advocate Still Hopeful 

This week, as the White House issued a landmark report detailing the frightening affects of global warming on our country and President Obama took to the airwaves to drive home that message, Bill Moyers talks with a scientist who has sounded the alarm for decades.

David Suzuki climate change
David Suzuki still sees hope on climate change.

For nearly 35 years, David Suzuki has brought science into the homes of millions on the Canadian television series, The Nature of Things. He has become a godfather of the environmental movement, and in a poll of his fellow Canadians last fall he was named that country’s most admired figure.

Nonetheless, his outspoken views on climate change and the government’s collusion with the petrochemical industry in developing Canada’s oil-rich tar sands have made him the target of relentless attacks from his nation’s prime minister, corporations and right-wing ideologues.

“Our politicians should be thrown in the slammer for willful blindness. We are being willfully blind to the consequences for our children and grandchildren. It’s an intergenerational crime,” Suzuki tells Moyers.


Obama Creates Climate Change Task Force

White House Creates Team To Tackle Climate Issues

President Obama issued an executive order Friday creating a “Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.” The group will “advise the Administration on how the Federal Government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change,” said the White House.

President Obama announces climate change task force
President Obama announces climate change task force.


The task force will include state, local, and tribal leaders from across the country. Climate change is a major issue for Obama’s political base, and Democrats are likely to stress it in the 2014 congressional elections.

Obama’s efforts to win congressional legislation on climate change have run afoul of Republicans who say that new environmental regulations would slow the economy.

A new poll, however, indicates that Republicans are divided on the topic.

The Pew Research Center reports that “just 25% of Tea Party Republicans say there is solid evidence of global warming, compared with 61% of non-Tea Party Republicans.

Overall, Pew reported, “two-thirds of Americans (67%) say there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades, a figure that has changed little in the past few years. While partisan differences over climate change remain substantial, Republicans face greater internal divisions over this issue than do Democrats.”

From Obama’s executive order:

“The impacts of climate change — including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise — are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation. …


“Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs.”


New York City LED’s Way With Greener Lighting

Big Apple Gets Greener

When many people think of New York City, beyond the crowds their image of the city is the lights. Soon, the night skyline will be much whiter because all 250,000 street lights are being switched to LEDs in the biggest retrofit project in the nation.

energy efficient buildings
Energy efficiency is one of the cornerstones to sustainable cities.

The switch-over is part of PlaNYC, the city’s climate change mitigation plan. PlaNYC requires the city to cut emissions from government operations 30% by 2017.

Started in 2009 as a pilot, the retrofit is now rolling out across NYC with a completion date of 2017. LEDs already light key corridors, such as FDR Drive – the highway along its east side – and paths that wind through Central Park. They even adorn the city’s bridges.

The $76.5 million project is expected to save $6 million a year in energy costs and $8 million a year on maintenance costs (LEDs last for up to 20 years).

It is the first project to receive funding from the city’s ACE Program (Accelerated Conservation and Efficiency Initiative). The $100 million competitive program launched this fall to expedite government projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions. It funds programs that can be quickly implemented on efficiency and clean heating. It awarded $10 million toward the lighting retrofit.

“Using LEDs for street lighting is more than just a bright idea, it’s a necessity for sustainable cities to operate more efficiently while also delivering clearer, better quality light for New Yorkers,” says Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan.

NYC was the first large American city to use LED traffic signals, converting lights at all 12,700 intersections – they now use  81% less energy.  Even the iconic ball that drops at New Year’s is filled with LEDs.

Boston and Los Angeles both recently finished their own city-wide lighting retrofits.

It’s estimated that the 35 million streetlights in the US consume about 1% of all electricity. If every city followed their lead, that would eliminate the need for 2.5 coal plants a year, notes former President Clinton.

Although clear, bright LEDs make city streets safer, not everyone likes their look. They are too bright they say, reminding them of floodlights. While there are soft light versions for use in homes, we wonder why they can’t be applied to  street lights.

Last year, the Department of Energy conducted a lifecycle analysis of LEDs and found while they have significantly lower environmental impact than incandescents, they only have a slight edge over compact fluorescents.


India Schedules Sustainability Summit

Sustainabilty stakeholders in India will convene in New Dehli next month to discuss green buildings and cities. Green Habitat Summit India 2013 is scheduled for August 20-21.

The Summit will focus on technologies, strategies, and financial mechanisms that can help the ULBs and states achieve sustainability goals – from building infrastructure and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to promoting a thriving green economy.

India's booming economy and population must address sustainability issues fast.
India’s booming economy and population must address sustainability issues fast.

The summit will bring in government agencies, entrepreneurs, private enterprises and the civil society to share their experience and deliberate on areas like sustainable buildings, energy efficiency, renewable energy, building materials, wastewater management, solid waste management, and waste-to-wealth initiatives and to chalk out a sustainable and green roadmap for habitats, including buildings, housing projects, townships and cities.

Green Habitat Summit India 2013 aims to identify green technologies and direct the ULBs and states towards sustainable and eco-friendly development.

Dr. Sukumar Devotta, Former Director, National environmental Engineering Research institute (NEERI) and convener of the event, said, “It is a compelling case for sustainable infrastructure projects to have a clear and well-structured road map. I hope that The Green Habitat Summit 2013 will bring together all stakeholders including leading think-tanks and practitioners and provide valuable insights, which can be put into action.”

Mr. Nesar Ahmed, Former President, Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI), founder of Universal Knowledge Foundation (UKF) and Adviser with HexaGreen, said, “Measuring impacts on environmental, social, and economic aspects of our buildings and cities is only a first, albeit essential, step towards a sustainable future. We need to create financial framework to help sustain the urban future of India.”

Thought provoking issues that the summit will deliberate on:

  • Energy Efficient Buildings: What are all stakeholders up to?
  • Solid Waste Management: Enough or require more innovative ideas?
  • LEDs: Green vs. Price
  • Urban Design in 21st Century: Where have we been mistaken and what is the way forward?
  • Beyond BRTS & CNG: What do we need in Urban Transportation?
  • Green Building Materials: Breaking the barrier
  • Sustainable Water Management: Where are the gaps and how do we bridge them
  • LEED & GRIHA: Do they need to change?
  • Green Investing in India: Has it gone well over the years?
  • Getting environment clearance: Perception Vs. Reality

HexaGreen is an initiative by DevCom Media Pvt. Ltd. with a vision of bridging the information and communication gap in the environment sector through websites, events, and research. It provides a digest form of all important happenings, policy matters, and actions taken in the sector, trend reading of the future of the business and representation of the same in pithy to-the-point anecdotes culled out from worldwide sources with high degree of India-centricity, opinion and analysis from corporate executives and thought leaders offering insight and inspiration on trends and best practices and valuable resources to help increase the effectiveness of online browsing.

The details related to the summit can be obtained at


Lakshmishree Sinha, +91-98110-06805,

Microsoft Hopes To Help Create Sustainable Cities

US software giant Microsoft launched a new initiative called CityNext to spur innovation and encourage leaders to create sustainable cities at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference in the US city of Houston on Wednesday.

Microsoft sees a window of opportunity in the sustainable city movement.
Microsoft sees a window of opportunity in the sustainable city movement.

Laura Ipsen, vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Public Sector, announced the initiative in her keynote at the Toyota Center in downtown Houston. The initiative leverages Microsoft’s vast Partner Network and the company’s technology solutions like Windows Azure and other devices and apps.

“Working with our vast Microsoft Partner Network, we can scale solutions and services to do ‘new with less,’ enabling cities to better compete in the global marketplace, drive citizen engagement, and foster economic, social and environmental sustainability,” Ipsen said.

Through CityNext, Microsoft will work with city leaders and focus on eight core functions: energy and water; buildings, planning and infrastructure; transportation; public safety and justice; tourism, recreation and culture; education; health and social services; government administration.

Nine places have already embarked on the initiative including southern China’s Hainan province and Zhengzhou in the central province of Henan, according to Sandy Gupta, national technology officer with Microsoft China.

CityNext empowers cities to make the most of existing investments and find the right combination of solutions, applications and programs to transform their cities.

Navigant Research forecasts that the smart city technology market will grow from the reported US$6.1 billion last year to US$20.2 billion in 2020, generating a total revenue of US$117.3 billion over the next seven years.


Sports World Tackling Climate Change

By Allen Hershkowitz

As I listened to President Obama present his important plan to meaningfully reduce the carbon we spew into the atmosphere each day, (and stimulate new jobs in doing so), I was struck by how far along on this issue the sports industry already is.


According to Scott Jenkins, the Seattle Mariners VP for ballpark operations and chairman of the board of the Green Sports Alliance, a US-based association of more than 170 sports teams and venues from 15 leagues, “We are pleased today to see President Obama outline his plan to address climate change, expand clean and renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. Green Sports Alliance member teams and venues have been embracing conservation efforts and cleaner sources of energy not only because it is better for the environment, but it is also better for our bottom line. Since the health of the sports industry depends on a stable climate we appreciate his leadership on this critical issue. Sports venues throughout our nation have demonstrated that adopting smart environmental strategies is good for both the environment and for business.”

Every sports industry Jewel Event — the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the NBA Playoffs and Finals, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, Major League Soccer’s Championship Cup, every All Star Game, and the NCAA Final Four —  all now power their events with renewable energy and purchase carbon offsets to reduce their contribution to global warming.

In a market shift of historic proportions, the commissioners of every major professional sports league have all endorsed the need to act to address global climate disruption and other ecological issues.

According to David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association, “Climate change is just about number one on [our agenda for] the future of the planet.” And in a letter sent to members of Congress in February of this year that seems to anticipate everything the president said in his climate speech, Kathleen Behrens, the executive VP of the National Basketball Association, wrote:

“Our league…accepts the conclusions of innumerable scientific experts and government agencies that climate change will only worsen if we do not effectively reduce the air pollutants that are driving it. The signs of extreme heat and extreme weather in recent years are unmistakable…Based on the advice of the world’s scientific community…the NBA agrees that our current regulatory system may need to be more creatively employed in order to provide the timely and effective response we need to address the challenge of combating climate change. We see no reason why our nation’s governmental leadership should not join with the efforts launched by the NBA and other businesses to promote effective standards and incentives designed to help our nation mobilize in time and at the scale needed to address the risks of climate change…The logical place to start is with standards to reduce the carbon pollution from electric power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.”

The National Hockey League, along with Major League Baseball, has for years been measuring energy use at all of its venues and will soon begin the process of setting carbon reduction goals with each NHL venue. AEG, our nation’s largest operator of stadiums, arenas and theaters has a goal to reduce its carbon emissions from all operations by 20 percent by 2020.

NASCAR has incorporated recycling and non-fossil fuel use to reduce its carbon footprint, and a NASCAR track in Pennsylvania hosts the largest solar array of any sports facility in the United States.

Major League Baseball’s commissioner Alan H. (Bud) Selig has said, “The principles of sustainability and environmental stewardship are now integral to the culture of Major League Baseball…Sound environmental practices make sense in every way and protect out natural resources for future generations of baseball fans.”

For almost ten years, the commissioners of every professional sports league have been encouraging energy efficiency enhancements and the development of solar power. In 2010 all league commissioners circulated a guide to the development of on-site solar arrays to all 140 professional teams and the operators of their stadiums and arenas. (See the list of solar arrays at pro sports venues below, and view the Solar Guide for Stadiums and Arenas distributed by all commissioners here.)

In response to their commissioners’ encouragement, 18 pro-sports teams have already installed solar arrays at their venues to help reduce their emissions of carbon pollution, 38 teams have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations, and almost 70 teams have adopted energy efficiency measures. Collectively all of these teams have saved millions of dollars annually by reducing their carbon emissions. And throughout collegiate sports, solar installation, greenhouse gas reducing composting and recycling programs and other cost-effective carbon reduction initiatives are so widespread that it’s impossible to list all of the impressive accomplishments taking place around campuses throughout the United States.

If there is one thing that President Obama’s climate speech reveals, it is that a cultural shift toward environmental awareness is taking place in the United States. As lessons from the sports industry reveal, we are changing the way we think about our relationship to the planet.

Given how important a stable climate is to professional sports teams, and how much work and investments the sports industry has made to work for it, it makes sense for the sports industry to fully support the urgent yet common-sense steps the President has laid out. It will be good for sports, good for business and good for our fans.

Solar arrays installed at pro sports venues

Major League Baseball

  1. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians, 2007
  2. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies, 2007
  3. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants, 2007
  4. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox, 2008
  5. FedEx Field, Washington Red Skins, 2011
  6. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2012
  7. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals, 2012
  8. Busch Stadium, St Louis Cardinals, 2012
  9. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners, 2012

National Basketball Association and National Hockey League

  1. STAPLES Center, LA Clippers/Lakers, 2008
  2. US Airways Arena, Phoenix Suns, 2009
  3. AT&T Center, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2009
  4. Oracle Arena, Golden State Warriors (training center), 2010
  5. Pepsi Center, Denver Nuggets, 2011
  6. Nationwide Arena, Columbus Blue Jackets,2012

National Football League

  1. CenturyLink Field, Seattle Seahawks/Sounders, 2011
  2. Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia Eagles, 2012
  3. Metlife Stadium, NY Giants, 2012

This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard.

Corporations Share Secrets On Energy Savings

Several corporate leaders, including Kohl’s, HEI Hotels and Resorts, Staples and Walgreens, have volunteered to reduce energy use 20 percent by 2020 as part of a challenge initiated by President Barack Obama. But that’s not the big deal.


The big deal is that they have agreed to publicly disclose how they’re doing it. Factories, data centers, stores and other large energy users often balk at revealing their energy efficiency strategies. After all, saving energy reduces the cost of doing business and gives them a competitive edge. By sharing details, they tip off the competition to better practices.

By not sharing details, however, they force others to reinvent the wheel — if they invent it at all — thus slowing U.S. progress in reaching national energy productivity goals aimed at bettering the economy.

“The real goal is to figure out who is leading in the space and how we can learn from their learning and replicate their activities in the marketplace quickly,” said Maria Vargas, director of the Better Buildings Challenge at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Vargas described the Obama strategy June 18-19 at the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships’ (NEEP) annual summit, an event that drew more than 300 people to Springfield, Mass.

“I have children, and they watch a show called ‘Mythbusters,'” she said. “So the way I think about the Better Business Challenge is as ‘barrier busters.'”

Some companies participating in the program have pursued energy efficiency for a decade or more, so can bust a lot of myths and offer substantial guidance. She relayed two examples where participants offered a useful strategy or technology.

Kohl’s was interested for years in pursuing energy efficiency, but the energy team could not convince the department store’s chief financial officer. It was largely a communications problem, as Vargas tells it.

“The CFO kept looking for different criteria than they had. They finally said, ‘This is crazy. We’re literally speaking different languages,'” she said.

Then, Kohl’s added someone from the CFO’s office to the energy team. That changed everything.

“All of a sudden, they move to the different country, and they are forced to speak the language,” she said.

As a result, Kohl’s is now “very much moving down an energy efficiency path and seeing tremendous savings across its portfolio,” she said.

Vargas also told the story of HEI Hotels & Resorts, owner of the Hilton, Marriott, Westin and other hotels. The company has developed an “easy, yet sophisticated” energy dashboard. “It was very proprietary,” she said.

Energy Looking Glass A snapshot of the Energy Looking Glass, HEI’s energy management tracking tool.

But after getting a direct request from Obama, Kohl’s CEO said, “‘The president asked me to share, and I’m going to share,'” Vargas said. “So they have.”

Ultimately, though, Vargas sees the federal program as a way to bolster innovation for communities, cities and states — the true launching pad for an energy-efficiency revolution.

“I firmly believe that all politics, all success, all life is local,” she said. “The Department of Energy can tell somebody what to do, and people will be like, ‘That’s nice, pass the muffins.'”

NEEP, host of the conference where Vargas spoke, works within one of the nation’s most active regions for energy efficiency. In keeping with the idea that it helps to get information about successful companies out there, NEEP announced several business leader awards. Videos or written profiles are available about the energy efficiency efforts of the 12 companies and organizations.

This year’s winners were American University, Atlas Box & Crating Company, Anheuser-Busch (New Hampshire and New York), Baystate Health, Boehringer Ingelheim, Boston College, Cape Cod Commercial Linen Service, Covidien, ESPN, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery.


Military Report: Fighting Climate Change Top Priority

A new report from the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses and the London-based Royal United Services Institute, two of the NATO alliance’s front-line strategy centers, recommends putting more effort into fighting global warming than securing reliable supplies of fossil fuels.

The authors call the habitual American fixation on winning energy independence through expanded North American production of oil and natural gas “misguided.” They say the “only sustainable solution” to the problem of energy insecurity is not through more drilling, but through energy efficiency and renewable fuels, like biofuels to replace oil.

Despite the steady supplies provided by the current U.S. drilling boom, “the increased domestic production of oil and natural gas is not a panacea for the country’s energy security dilemma,” they say.

And in blunt language, they criticize American policymakers and legislators for refusing to accept the “robust” scientific evidence that emissions of carbon dioxide are already causing harmful global warming, and for refusing to take actions that, if taken swiftly, could ward off its worst effects.

“Political leaders, including many in the United States, refuse to accept short-term costs to address long-term dangers even though the future costs of responding to disasters after they occur will be far greater,” said their report, published this month.

The report, in the works for a year, was released as President Obama prepared to ramp up the administration’s efforts on climate change, and while the State Department was immersed in its review of whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in the United States.

In a major policy speech on Tuesday, Obama is expected to renew his commitment to regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants, as well as other measures involving renewable energy and green technologies, but not to tip his hand on the Keystone decision. Many in Washington believe that he wants to offer strict controls on power plants, the nation’s leading source of greenhouse gases, as a quid pro quo for approving the controversial pipeline, which is seen by opponents as a contributor to the global warming problem.

Keystone’s proponents have described the project as important for energy security.

The military embraces solar and other forms of alternative energy.

For several years, the view that global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is an overwhelming national security threat has been taking firmer hold in national security circles. In 2007, a report from CNA’s military advisory board called climate change a “threat multiplier.” In 2008, a formal National Intelligence Assessment found that climate change poses a serious threat to national security and long-term global stability. The Department of Defense’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a major planning document, warned that climate change may fuel conflict, put new strains on military forces operating in the field, and cause damage to military bases, especially ports exposed to rising seas and intense storms.

In an article published in Foreign Affairs online in June, Tom Donilon, the former National Security Adviser to President Obama, wrote: “The Obama administration’s National Security Strategy recognizes the ‘real, urgent, and severe’ threat posed by climate change in no uncertain terms, stating, ‘change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.'”

But the focus of Donilon’s piece was on energy, not on climate change, and it spoke expansively of the importance of increased energy production to America’s strength in the world. For example, it claimed that by helping to provide plentiful oil to satisfy world demand, the United States could more effectively squeeze Iran with an embargo, a strategy that otherwise would harm oil-deficient allies.

The new American-British report looks mostly at the other side of the coin, the risks presented by the burning of fossil fuels no matter where they come from.

It acknowledges the problems caused by Western reliance on imported oil, especially from unstable parts of the world. But the new report says that even more important is the compelling need to stop using fossil fuels in the first place, since the steady addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is now posing imminent dangers to national security.

Even though the United States gets just 20 percent of its oil imports from the Middle East, the lowest share in four decades—and it could be headed toward being an oil exporter two decades from now—”the U.S. economy is highly sensitive to supply shocks and price fluctuations, regardless of the source of the oil,” it says. “Even new, domestic sources of oil and gas do not free the United States from the risks of over-reliance, because the prices of these commodities will be determined by global markets,” the report says.

The bigger problem, says the report, is global warming, which will cause upheaval, and military challenges, across the globe in the coming decades.

“Our consumption of oil and other fossil fuels contributes to climate change, which poses growing risks to our infrastructure, livelihoods, and national security,” it says in its primary conclusion. “Using more natural gas and oil, even if domestically produced, neither frees our economies from global oil prices nor checks the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten future generations. The only sustainable solution to this dual challenge is to improve our energy efficiency and diversify our energy sources to include cleaner and renewable power.”

Experts outside the military have also been increasingly alarmed by the possibility that climate change, by spreading famine, drought, disease and poverty, would lead to migration, competition for resources, and war, especially in poor regions of Africa and Asia. Rich countries might easily be drawn into these conflicts.

But the World Bank, in a new report that predicted many dire consequences for a warming planet, was cautious in predictions that climate change would lead to war.

“The potential connection between environmental factors and conflict is a highly contested on, and the literature contains evidence both supporting and denying such a connection,” it said. “However, given that unprecedented climatic conditions are expected to place severe stresses on the availability and distribution of resources, the potential for climate-related human conflict emerges as a risk—and one of uncertain scope and sensitivity to degree of warming.”

Strategists frequently note that dealing with uncertain risk is a central feature of military planning, and that whether the risk is of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, or climate change, it must be addressed long in advance of becoming real.

The new Center for Naval Analysis report quotes the “voice of experience” of General Charles E. Wald, a retired Air Force officer who was deputy commander of the U.S. European Command: “The biggest thing we could do right now to address climate change and its national security effects would be to decrease the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere, and the biggest thing we could do about that would be to have a comprehensive energy policy that addresses not only the amount and diversity of our energy, but how clean it is.”

The report hits hard at those in Congress who deny the scientific consensus on climate and use national security arguments to encourage more production of coal, oil and natural gas.

“Many elected leaders in the United States fail to grasp or distrust the scientific evidence for global warming,” it says. “To some, the revelation of newly accessible oil and gas reserves across North America seems to resolve the problem of relying on oil imports—a position we regard as misguided.”