Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Packaging That Grows Native Trees: Sustainable Brands 2010

Packing products in boxes and shipping them long distances gets a big rap as "unsustainable" because of its triple whammy of using cardboard that comes from trees, generating heat-trapping carbon emissions via shipping, and generating waste if the cardboard isn't recycled or composted properly.

The Life Box™ offers companies and consumers alike a sustainable solution to all three of the above problems.  Best of all, you know it's a solution you can trust because it was invented by mycologist, author and founder of Fungi Perfecti®, LLC, Paul Stamets, along with co-conspirators David Censi and Katie Birkhauser.  As an environmental scientist, Stamets knows what it takes for products to offer credible reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and waste.  According to the company's web site:
The Life Box™ suite of products builds upon the synergy of fungi and plants by infusing spores and seeds together inside of packaging materials that can be planted.
How does it work, and how do Life Boxes address shipping's triple-whammy of unsustainability?

First, each box comes from 100% recycled paper, and is therefore tree-free to produce.  Second, to offset the heat-trapping carbon pollution generated by shipping, each box contains 200-400 different seeds of 10 different tree species, which are dusted with mycorrhizal fungi -- symbiotic organisms that boost the young tree's ability to take up nutrients and water in exchange for carbohydrates (produced by CO2-absorbing photosynthesis) provided by the tree.

To eliminate the waste created by improper disposal of cardboard boxes, you can literally plant the box to create trees!  When you're done with the box, you have two options.  The easiest is the "let nature take its course" option: between October and January, simply tear up the box into approximately 6x6" bits, moisten them to stimulate the seeds to germinate, plant them, and let nature take its course.  Keep the seeds watered and you should start to see seedlings after a couple of months.  The other is a bit more complicated, but is also more fun since you get to watch your planted Life Box seeds germinate in a tray during their first year and transfer them into individual pots for their second year.  After two years, simply transfer the potted trees to the place of your choice -- for example near your office, in your yard, or in a neighborhood park.

To track the beneficial impacts of Life Box™ trees, the company asks users for their email addresses and locations:
When you plant your trees outside in their permanent home, send us an email with the address—or better yet, the GPS coordinates—of your planted Life Box™. We will collect this data and eventually post the locations on a map of the United States. In the future, we hope to create an interactive Web site so customers can share their experiences. Stay tuned!
How do you know the trees won't become ecologically harmful invasive species?  To start, the company chose a continental mix of tree species that is acceptable to all Departments of Agriculture in every state in the U.S.  (for now, Life Box™ products are only available in the continental U.S. -- not yet Hawaii)  The introductory seed mix includes white birch and sweetgum from the eastern U.S.; lodgepole pine, water birch, sycamore and blue spruce native to the Rocky Mountains; mountain hemlock native to the Pacific Northwest; and northern white cedar (arborvitae) native to Europe.  If the company can grow the business to a sufficient level, Life Box™ plans for its products to become zip code-specific -- to provide customers with trees that are native to their bioregion.  For example, if you're in the New York City area, your Life Box™ products may contain familiar species such as red and sugar maple, eastern hemlock and white birch. However, customers in the Bay Area of California might receive giant redwood, coast live oak, and bay laurel.

No matter where you are located, each tree that grows to be 30 years old will suck an average of 1 ton of CO2 from the atmosphere during its lifetime (more on moist and fertile soils, less on dry, rocky or otherwise infertile soils):
Each Tree Life Box™ may some day qualify for up to one ton of carbon credits!
We estimate that 1 tree in 100 will survive to 30 years. On average, a 30-year-old tree can sequester 1 ton of carbon.
Still more exciting: Life Box™ plans not only cardboard products for shipping (click here to view currently available boxes, which come in three sizes).  The technology is also being used to make tree-generating custom wine boxes, CD and DVD covers, pizza boxes and sleeves for coffee cups -- all coming soon.  Don't live in a place with a lot of native trees?  Planned future Life Box™ products will contain native grassland and meadow wildflower species.  Don't live in the continental U.S., but want Life Box™ products?  The company is working to offer products world-wide.

If you'd like to learn more about Life Box™ products, come to their break-out event: the upcoming Sustainable Brands 2010 Conference, happening June 7-10 in Monterey, CA.  Founder, Paul Stamets, will be on hand for a presentation titled, "Rethinking the Box".  Stamets' lecture is just one of literally dozens of presentations by a superb line-up of sustainability innovators who are advancing business practices that benefit both the earth and their bottom line.

Please join me in beautiful Monterey (where I'll definitely sneak off one evening for a hike to visit the otters, sea lions and seals at Pt. Lobos State Natural Reserve).  I'll be at Sustainable Brands 2010 as both an ecologist and a sustainable business maven, excited to learn more about emerging products and practices that help stop climate change and reverse the destruction of our natural heritage.

The Sustainable Brands 2010 Conference is hosted by Sustainable Life Media.  It is located in Monterey, California this year and will run from June 7th -10th.  To register for the Conference, please visit the Sustainable Life Media website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

After the Three Mile Island of the Oil Industry, Time for a Solid Plan for Freedom From Oil

As I continue to watch BP and Halliburton's Gulf of Mexico oil disaster unfold, I am doing my best to focus constructively on the question of "What next?"

What I keep coming back to is the feeling that, as people like Jerome Ringo are saying, this catastrophe absolutely must serve as a catalyst that helps accelerate our transition to clean energy.  Coming from the Gulf Coast, himself, Ringo writes eloquently of the lesson before us, which can become a silver lining to the darkening cloud of oil spreading across the Gulf:

Now, as more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil pour into the Gulf of Mexico each day, I see the jobs that will be lost, the families and communities that will suffer and the impending devastation of our $2 billion seafood industry.
Think about the fishermen, the truck drivers, the restaurant owners and so many others who depend on this industry. Think also about the fish, birds, sea turtles and other marine life whose ecosystem has just been turned on its head.
There is a better way: clean energy.
While many countries have already embraced clean energy and adopted national policies to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewables, the United States continues to suffer from a reactive, outdated energy strategy. It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. House of Representatives passed its energy and climate bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act), but the Senate has yet to begin serious debate on its own legislation.
Our policymakers are fiddling while Rome burns – or rather, while oil rigs burn and pollute our oceans and coasts.
Not only is America’s refusal to embrace clean energy endangering human health and wildlife, it is also costing us jobs, which are precious commodities in this time of economic hardship. Several energy companies, including GE and BP Solar, recently announced plans to invest millions of dollars to develop and expand clean energy facilities – not in the United States, where such investments and the jobs they bring are desperately needed – but in Europe and China. We need incentives for green energy jobs here at home.
Now is the time for the Senate to act. With photos of the oil spill on the front pages of newspapers across the country, Americans are starting to grasp the dangers of our country’s dependence on oil and other dirty sources of energy, and this awareness is being transformed into support for a new energy direction for our country.
While our unfortunate energy reality right now is that we need to continue to drill for oil, including to power our transition to renewable energy, we need to do so in a manner guided by a bold, long-term plan to achieve freedom from oil.

Between the high costs of our oil dependence (which we are reminded of daily by updates on the underwater oil volcano that BP and Halliburton have created) and the looming threat of Peak Oil, we must get a move on before we are forced to get a move on.

We have a choice.

Perhaps, it's the most urgent choice that humanity has ever faced, as the transport and food supplies of billions hang in the balance if we don't start acting with focused, inspired urgency to transition to clean energy and vehicles.

Climate Progress offered a good update on the Peak Oil situation this past weekend:
A storm is quickly approaching, and the world is not ready for it.

The permanent end of the era of cheap oil is coming as soon as next year, according to a raft of official reports that have made their way into energy media over the last few months.  Governments are now beginning to acknowledge the looming crisis. Yet, perhaps because they waited too long to prevent it, leaders are not yet alerting the public.

The entire world economy is built on cheap oil,  A permanent oil production shortage will thus lead to The End of The World (As We Know It).  What will come on the other side of this — will it be good or bad?

Public Unaware. Except for a few stories in financial pages such as London’s Financial Times, this earth-shaking news has yet to reach the Mainstream Media.  While “Peak Oil” researchers have long warned of approaching oil shortages, the difference now is these dire warnings are being validated by the highest government and oil company officials.  Yet, no political leader has had the courage to make a major announcement to prepare the public for what lies ahead.

This public blindness is tantamount to the isolationism that gripped the U.S. in the years preceding WWII.  While the highest government leaders did their best to prepare for inevitable war, they were hamstrung by the resistance of a public unable to accept what really lay ahead.  Similar to today, some politicians advanced their own careers by feeding on the public’s desire to believe no coming storm could ever reach them.  Yet, the storm came anyway.

The Limits of Oil. The looming crisis we now face is often referred to as “Peak Oil” — a status where global oil production will reach a plateau, then begin its irreversible decline.

We Can Do It. Though Americans resisted the recognition that WWII was coming, once it came they rose valiantly to the call to action. A similar can-do spirit is needed now for the transition to a post-oil world.

This crisis is coming soon.  It is too late to prevent it, so we simply need to get used to it.  Peak Oil is happening.

We will need to adapt – but we can do that.
The good news, which I emphasize on this blog time and again, is that the solutions to Peak Oil and climate change overlap in many ways, and both overlap with the solutions to our economic crisis, jobs crisis, and crisis of skyrocketing health care costs.

It is time for us to rise up as citizens and inspire Congress and the President to take bold action by passing an American Power Act that incorporates the lessons we are learning each and every day as we watch this Gulf of Mexico oil disaster unfold.  Click here for a fun way to write to your Senators, President Obama, and even your local newspaper.

Read more>>

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Will the BP/Halliburton Oil Spill be a Game Changing Event in Our Energy History?

The more I read about the BP/Halliburton Oil Spill, the more I think about how absurd it is that we put untold $billions of business and government investment dollars into drilling for a toxic liquid that's so scarce at this point that we need to drill in 5,000-foot-deep water in the middle of the ocean to get it.

I mean, we can put people on the moon, but we're this slow in developing the political willpower to ramp up clean renewable energy and save our economy, health, security and environment from our addiction to this evil black slime of an energy source?

Watching events unfold, I'm speechless that BP not only wasn't prepared for something like this, but fought off government regulators' efforts to make sure they had all systems in place for making 100% sure they could shut off the spigot if something like this happened.  I'm even more speechless that regulators didn't spine up and force BP to invest in the spill prevention equipment that would, as we speak, be providing the company with a humongous return on investment. And I've completely had it with taking risks like this just to get at dirty energy and the many (very costly) ills that it inflicts upon society.  At this point, the risks we take for our dirty energy fix are akin to those that a heroin junky takes.  It's both immensely frustrating and pathetic that a society as advanced as ours can't be bolder in doing what is clearly right on energy.

As both a scientist and a human being, I can't believe that not only is there an uncontrolled pipe spewing oil 5,000 feet down at the bottom of the ocean, but that the company responsible is being allowed to spray and pump millions of gallons of toxic dispersants into the spill to make it less visible.  On top of that, we really don't know what kind of impact such a massive quantity of toxic dispersants is going to have on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and its people alike.  Well, we do have an idea, and it's not pretty:

Chemically dispersing oil spills “solves the political problem of visible oil but not the environmental problem,” Robert Brulle, a 20-year Coast Guard veteran and an affiliate professor of public health at Drexel University, told me. These dispersants “do not actually reduce the total amount of oil entering the environment,” as a 2005 National Academy of Sciences report on the subject put it.
In short: out of sight, out of mind. But not out of the body of marine life.
Dispersants decrease the amount of oil that directly reaches the shores or the creatures that live on the shores or sea surface. But they increase the exposure to oil by creatures that live in the water or on the sea floor — like, say, shrimp or oysters.
I spoke to Carys Mitchelmore, one of the writers of the toxicity chapter for the NAS report. She explained that dispersants are “a molecule that looks like a snake. The head part likes water and the tail part likes oil.” The dispersant “pulls the oil into the water in the form of tiny droplets.”
And that means subsurface creatures — from oysters to coral to larval eggs — that might never have had significant exposure to the oil are now going to get a double whammy, getting hit by the oil and by the dispersants. Worse, the oil droplets are now in a form that looks like food (e.g., the same size as algae) to filter feeders like oysters, which otherwise may only have been exposed to the far lower levels of dissolved oil components found under a typical oil slick. The droplets can also clog up fish gills.
Mitchelmore noted that “oil contains a whole suite of toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens.” The dispersants can lead to far greater accumulation in living organisms of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — oil-derived toxic compounds that were found in mussels 19 months after one spill in which dispersants were used. After the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, a study found PAHs had an impact on the developing hearts of both Pacific herring and pink salmon embryos.
Pretty eye-opening, ain't it?  So then, what's going to happen to the people and their families and fishing boats and businesses (from fish wholesalers to retailers to restaurants to recreational fishing and tourism businesses) that depend on a healthy Gulf of Mexico?  What's going to happen to the shrimp and the oysters and the fish -- how long until we can really eat them safely once again?  What's going to happen to the sharks and rays and turtles that help hold the ecosystem together?  What's going to happen to the dolphins and the whales and the seabirds?  How long is this spill going to be a literal cancer on the Gulf of Mexico's communities and ecosystems alike?

Are BP, Halliburton and Transocean going to step up and do what's right by footing the bill to cure this cancer?  Are voters going to hold the government accountable and make sure our politicians learn the lessons on energy that are clearly being taught here?

For politicians who so strongly hang hats on slogans like "Pro-life" and "Pro-choice", how can we tolerate allowing even one more oil catastrophe like this to be inflicted upon our fellow citizens, our cherished natural heritage, and the wondrous diversity of life we share the earth with?  How can we continue to choose dirty oil when our clean energy alternatives offer a far better future for our environment, economy, health and security alike?

Our rapid transition to a clean energy economy, which will also help solve climate change and slow biodiversity loss, is my #1 voting issue.  Who's joining me in holding our politicians accountable for getting the job done?
Photo by Gary Braasch

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Battery Charger Could 'Fill 'er up!' in 3 Minutes

With all the talk of the unfolding BP-Halliburton oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I'm happy to relay news of a technological advance in electric vehicles, which are on the verge of transporting millions of us from place to place sans petroleum.

The Triple Pundit reports:
A Japanese company is refining a technology that charges the battery pack in electric cars 50 percent full in three minutes, according to Green Car Advisor.
The system, which is about the size of a gasoline pump, could be a boon for the electric vehicle market, where long charge times for vehicle battery packs are a major obstacle to widespread adoption of EVs.
On that note, I'm going to head out for a spin on my electric-assisted bicycle, which is a blast to ride.  I can't wait to own my first electric car, and to be able to charge it via my home solar system...

Read more>>

Monday, May 10, 2010

UN Report Warns of Economic Impact of Biodiversity Loss

Coral reefThe UN today issued a new report that warned of the economic impact of biodiversity loss:

The relationship between nature loss and economic harm is much more than just figurative, the UN believes.
An ongoing project known as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is attempting to quantify the monetary value of various services that nature provides for us.
These services include purifying water and air, protecting coasts from storms and maintaining wildlife for ecotourism.
The rationale is that when such services disappear or are degraded, they have to be replaced out of society's coffers.
Loss of coral reefs will reduce humanity's supply of seafood
TEEB has already calculated the annual loss of forests at $2-5 trillion, dwarfing costs of the banking crisis.
"Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other lifeforms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (Unep).
"Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity, or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world.
"The truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050."
The more that ecosystems become degraded, the UN says, the greater the risk that they will be pushed "over the edge" into a new stable state of much less utility to humankind.
For example, freshwater systems polluted with excess agricultural fertiliser will suffocate with algae, killing off fish and making water unfit for human consumption.
The main question that I keep coming back to is how we go about enacting land use plans that simultaneously protect biodiversity and human well-being without ticking a lot of people off.

How can we make conservation both possible and profitable, and transform the public's perception of biodiversity conservation from a threat to their economic well being to a new revenue opportunity?  It comes down to creating smart land management and policy solutions that reward property owners for the conservation value that their lands provide to society -- perhaps via some form of payments for ecosystem services system.

The bottom line is that humanity is still working on management and policy solutions for making conservation an economically viable alternative to extractive uses.  We're getting there in some places, but in many others, we've got real work to do.

Read more>>

Monday, May 03, 2010

20-Year Veteran of Coast Guard Comments on BP's Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Catching up on reading about the oil spill tonight, I enjoyed this post at ClimateProgress by sociologist and Coast Guard Veteran, Dr. Robert J. Brulle:

So now what?  I had hoped that we were beyond this sort of event.  But evidently we aren’t.
In the face of global climate change, and now massive catastrophic oil spills, why can’t we figure out that the fossil fuel era needs to come to an end, for our survival, and for the survival of the rest of the species with which we share this planet?  That we have much better alternatives than to continuing to “drill baby drill” – which has now turned into “spill baby spill.”  That we cannot drill our way to energy independence, and that every gallon of gas we burn brings the prospect of further ecological calamities from global warming closer.
We need a real commitment to renewable energy, and to stop investing in the polluting fuels of the past.  The sooner we get on with it, the less chance our children will have to face future disasters.


Some are now saying oil could rise to over $100/barrel this summer due to the heating economy and possible speculation in the oil market stemming from this spill.

I say bring it on.

It's probably exactly what the doctor ordered for Congress to pass climate change and clean energy legislation that is bolder and more effective than the yawner of a bill put forth by Senators Lieberman, Graham, and Kerry.

Of course, $100 doesn't even come close to reflecting the true cost of a barrel of oil...(this link is to an article by an Iraq war veteran)

Read more>>