Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Carbon first, what next?

The law of diminishing return refers to the idea that as supply increases, the value or return diminishes. Richard Heinburg explains this concept with espresso. He said that with one cup of espresso, he would be able to get his work done with high quality. If he had two cups, he would get more work done, however, the quality of work would not be as great as if he were to have just one cup. And it all goes to hell if he has three cups because it would cost him more to do that work since the quality would be so low. The law of diminishing return definitely applies to sustainability. We cannot keep using the unsustainable means of energy just because they are easy to produce. The more we produce of it, the lower its value to us. There is only so much that oil can do for our society. It has created and devastated our economies and eventually will no longer be of use to us. Although our lives currently rely on oil, there must come a point where the production and use of oil will no longer offer the same return that it did in the past. Richard also mentions that societies that have invested in complexities often reach a point in their society where their specialization does not give them any profit to society, often leading to their demise. We should not wait for the oil and carbon way of life to reach its diminishing return for us to turn to new means of energy production and consumption.

Resilience is ability to absorb shocks and be able to still function. Resilience has not been the focus of our lives because for the past hundreds of years, the focus has been on profits. But our financial institutions are making profits through speculation and debt, which is nowhere near resilient to environmental shocks. A more resilient society would use a more cooperative framework that would achieve goals for all opposed to just those who want to make profits.  Working together to decide what should be made or what services should be offered can have outstanding impacts on our society like increasing environmental health and slowing down population growth. There are so many aspects of life that are put into the hands of the people who just want to make money at any expense and we should take back our rights as humans to these aspects. There is no reason why we could not work together and be profitable, while also creating resilient systems. Our current economic system is unstable at best and is unpredictable because of the way that investments are made using speculation and piggybacking on other's debts. We need to reshape our society to become more resilient so that we can have a better future where more people feel like they have control over their lives and that the environment doesn't have to suffer at the expense of profits.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Reaching for the Starbucks: Making the Coffee Industry Sustainable

Starbucks, a global coffee phenomenon, is one of the most sustainable companies out there. When I think of Starbucks, I just think of overpriced, acidic coffee with no soul. After learning about their sustainable mission and achievements, I now understand why it is so overpriced (I'm still not keen on its taste, but will complain less about it). It's hard to believe that a company as large as Starbucks actually cares about its impacts on the environment and on society. Starbucks began its path toward sustainability in 2004 by focusing on renewable energy, energy conservation, and climate action and mitigation efforts. On Starbucks website, they mention that they have always been aware of their impacts on the environment and local farms because they depend on them for their business. Their awareness is what is making them a leader in sustainable business practices.

As climate change has become an even greater presence in our lives, Starbucks has increased its role in decreasing its impact on the earth. Starbucks works from on the farm level to the global level on how it should manage its resources from start to finish. Starbucks is dedicated to conservation and buys coffee base on the Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices that ensure that their coffee is coming from sustainable and socially responsible farms. Not only are their resources for their main source of revenue more sustainable, but so are their stores. Starbucks builds its stores based on the LEEDS standards which have high standards for efficiency. Many of their new stores are up to LEEDS standards and they have been working since 2008 on bringing more of their existing stores to these standards. Definitely a step in the right direction.

Starbucks is working towards reducing its impacts on the environment by changing packaging design guidelines, offering reusable cups, advocating for local recycling infrastructure and expanding our customer-facing and behind-the-counter recycling practices. Starbucks understands that the disposal of their cups is reliant on their consumers. They advocate for the use of reusable cups and for their consumers to recycle their cups in recycling bins opposed to trash bins. In their stores, many landlords promote the idea of recycling their plastic and fibrous materials, making the behind the scenes green as well as in the forefront. At the moment, Starbucks is working on programs that will make their manufacturing plants as green as their stores. There are a few more kinks to work out than making their stores greener.

"As a company that relies on agricultural products, we have long been aware that the planet is our most important business partner." -Starbucks

Starbs is ahead of the game. They seem like this massive company that is trying to take over the world, but they actually do some good while they are doing it. This financial powerhouse depends on natural resources to make its profits, so it only makes sense for it to work with instead of against the environment. Kudos to you Starbucks.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Gotta keep Standing

Standing Rock, like many protests, is one that needs to happen. After reading an article from the LA Times titled "The Protests at Standing Rock are Necessary," this idea is confirmed. The article compared the Malheur militia's protests last year on public land in the Northwest to the protests of the Sioux Tribe at Standing Rock to stop the creation of the Dakota Access Pipeline in their reservation. Coincidentally, the Bundy family had just received their court hearings the other week and received minimal punishment in comparison to the protestors at Standing Rock. The Bundy family were covered in weapons and ammo and were expressing their rights on public land and were not arrested as brutally as the peaceful protestors in North Dakota. This article examines the principle of white privilege in the world of protests. In comparison, the Bundy family, who nearly took over the state of Oregon, were almost just left alone during their protests while at Standing Rock, the protestors are being bombarded by SWAT level policing. In the Bundy family protest, they were fighting to stop government encroachment on western lands, which was seen as a minimal issue to the government at the time. The Sioux tribe have a concrete issue at hand where money is involved, so they are being faced with all that the US government can throw at them even though they are peacefully protesting. The unequal treatment of these two similar but different protests is mind boggling.

The main issue I have with Standing Rock is that it's not the government's nor the company whose building the pipeline's land to be building on. This event is our generations Trail of Tears if we don't decide to get on the right side of history. The way that this protest is being handled by the government is not alright. Instead of taking the side of the defenseless, the government, including Hillary Clinton, are taking the side of the oil company because it means more energy security. But at what price? I believe energy security is important, however, I believe people's health and prosperity rank higher. By building this pipeline through the Sioux's land, their groundwater is more than likely to become contaminated due to a leak, spill, or explosion. America wants energy security, but lacks the same wants for water security for people of all backgrounds.

These pipelines are not even sustainable. They are temporary routes of destruction. If as a nation we want to decrease our dependence on oil, then maybe we should stop building these pipelines and start creating alternative means of energy. But to do that, we would need large investments from somewhere to start a project like that. The only interest in mind for this pipeline is the interest of the oil company because they are paying for it themselves and they have to pay large fees to the government in the form of taxes and permits. Environmental justice is not evident in this protest because another minority group is being put at risk for a white man's pursuit. The pipeline was proposed to be placed near Bismarck on public land, but was moved to Standing Rock in mind of public interest. But Bismarck is white and the Siouxs are not. So that's why their protest is unsuccessful at the time being. This protest is so important because it is not just an environmental issue, but also a racially-charged political protest.

The sustainability community, including myself, should support the protestors at Standing Rock because of the environmental, social, and medical harms that the pipeline could cause. Promoting environmental justice is also another reason that it needs our support because it is unequal and unjust that just because the Sioux are not white that they should have to give up their right to their land for white men to endanger their lives (again). It's ridiculous that this protest is still going on because I am pretty sure that it is illegal for the oil company to do anything on the Sioux's reservation. Stand up for those at Standing Rock.