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Does Climate Change Have Time for Transition Plans?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 24, 2014 9:24:25 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The USDA Forest Service is pushing through the sale of nearly 6,200 acres of Tongassrainforest rainforest’s old growth timber for 10-15 years of logging, claiming that’s what the timber industry needs to “transition” to second-growth timber management. Only the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department’s investigation of possible violation of the endangered species act is forestalling the tragic event.

Forgive me if I’m cynical about transition plans, particularly in this irreplaceable natural treasure, where ancient giant trees greater than 10 feet in diameter can grow for many centuries, and support the habitat for five species of Pacific salmon, Steelhead, brown bear, black bear, wolves, Sitka blacktailed deer, river otter and marten.

The USDA’s 2013 Tongass sale was announced in a press release as “the logical transition to young growth timber harvests.” But back in 2010, the same U.S.D.A.Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged over three years to “end large-scale, old-growth timber harvest while…supporting bright spots in the regional economy such as fishing, tourism, visitor services, mariculture and alternative energy.”

In fact, old-growth logging is less than 1% of Southeast Alaska’s economy. Fishing brings in $6.4 billion, employs 94,000 people. Tourism accounts for another $2.42 billion and accounts for one in eight Alaskan jobs. Both industries are vulnerable to the proposed habitat destruction of logging.

Yet here we are. Again.

The struggle between the Tongass temperate rainforest and timber interests has been ongoing for 25 years. Didn’t The Tongass Timber Reform Act put in place in 1990 for practical purposes end logging in Tongass and force the two pulp mills there to shut down? Didn’t President Clinton, in 2001, pass protections for roadless areas?  And didn’t the house add an amendment to the Act in 2007 to specifically ban road construction in the Tongass forest?

So why now?

The New York Times reported that the Forest Service needs to raise money because it overspent fighting wildfires at the 2013 season peak and diverted $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas.

The drought was caused by climate change, which rainforests are uniquely designed to counter.

The irony is overwhelming.

To add a truly Kafkaesque twist: the Forest Service does not make a profit overall on Tongass timber, and by one analysis, has lost $1 billion since 1990.

Tongass timber companies have had since 1990 to “transition” out of old growth. Now they’re getting another 10-15 years. This in a country whose democratic capitalism demands constant reinvention. So when I hear that word “transition” applied to other climate change legislation, it sounds alarms.

Those alarms were clanging loudly when EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy touted the new power plant regulations plan for an “orderly transition” from coal.

Writing in this week’s Time Magazine, Michael Grunwald examines the plan’s 2030 goal: to reduce emissions from power plants by 30% from 2005 levels and coal generated electricity by 30% as well. But electricity from coal is already down 20% and another 10% of coal plants are scheduled for retirement. Its projections for renewable development are absurdly low.

In Grunwald’s words, the plan “undershoots the current pace of decarbonization in electricity.”

The EPA justifies its less than ambitious plan by asserting that its “transition” plan will forestall objections and lawsuits, especially from the big coal states. And objections have been muted so far. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity contends the rules will stress state-based power grids, increase electric bills and increase the risk of rolling blackouts, but so far, it’s just a PR gambit.

Lawmakers in fossil-fuel rich Louisiana are also condemning the plan, with Bill Cassidy, who is currently running for the Senate on an anti-Obama platform, summing up objections: “President Obama is proposing regulations that hamstring the economy, raising utility costs for families and destroying tens of thousands of jobs.”

As for potential lawsuits, that door was effectively closed Monday when the Supreme Court sustained EPA regulation of power plants by a vote of 7 to 2.

Maybe I’m wrong to be suspicious of “transition” plans that pull us back from where we were already headed. Certainly the Tongass old-growth sale, if it goes through, reverses course. Then again, sometimes, if you just stall, people sort things out for themselves. Obama stalled for 6 years on climate action against power plants, and even so, we’re already half-way to a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030. Now, there is an appetite for serious reduction in coal.

And Tongass? On June 10, with the summer timber harvest season about to start , a group of environmental NGOs brought suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delaying Endangered Species Act protection for the Alexander Archipelago wolf, a rare and visually stunning creature found only in the old-growth forests of southeast Alaska.

What does that mean for transition plans? Maybe they’re just another part of climate change itself — unpredictable, sometimes Kafkaesque, often devastating and in the end, inevitable. Hopefully, the inevitability of both climate change and their politics will converge in time to save the planet.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 102 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 325+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 


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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaska, Alexander Archipelago wolf, Bill Cassiy, climate change, decarbonization, logging, USDA Forest Service, Uncategorized, Michael Grunwald, power plant regulations, Tongass rainforest, The Tongass Timber Reform Act, Carol Pierson Holding, Tom Vilsack

Capitalism in Synchronicity with Climate Change?

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 4, 2014 9:02:38 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last Thursday, environmentalists won a major victory when Royal Dutch Shell halted oil ice photodrilling operations in the Chukchi Sea. An environmental coalition successfully sued to reverse the U.S. government’s 2008 decision that opened Alaska to drilling. The decision was only a partial victory, but it was enough to stop Shell’s operation at least through 2014.

Despite the possibility of a reversal, environmentalists are celebrating. In the week after the decision was handed down, Shell determined that drilling in Alaska might not make economic sense after all. At the same time that Shell’s Alaskan equipment failures have cost the company billions, the US market for natural gas and crude markets remain low and refinery margins are being squeezed. Shell spent $2.1 billion investing in drilling licenses and billions more in exploration and legal costs. The company has already written off $1 billion for its Alaskan adventure.

Alaska isn’t the only place Shell has encountered the double rub of environmental adversaries and falling profit potential. Shell’s previous CEO spent $26 billion buying up U.S. shale properties. Now, $2 billion has to be written off to reflect their drop in value.

After Shell announced it would cut spending and sell more assets, its stockholders reacted positively, pushing shares up 2%. As reported in the Seattle Times, Investec analyst Neill Morton predicted further writedowns for Shell in North America.

Still, environmentalists would love to have absolute assurance that Alaska is safe from drilling. "President Obama now has the chance to do right by the Arctic and the planet by keeping oil drilling out of the Chukchi Sea," said Earthjustice attorney Eric Grafe, who represented the groups.

Is Earthjustice realistic? President Obama seems to be positioning himself as the environmental champion. His State of the Union address has been praised for his support of climate change, and his most stirring statement on the subject has been widely quoted: “Climate change is a fact. And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

However, one of Obama’s achievements to win bi-partisan praise has been to bring America close to energy independence. He’s opened more areas to drilling than his predecessor. And though his address made him sound like a climate change warrior, he failed to mention the Keystone Pipeline decision.

On Friday, we found out why, when his State Department announced its findings that the pipeline, despite releasing between 147 and 168 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, would not “significantly increase carbon in the atmosphere.”

Predictions are that Obama will most likely allow the Keystone Pipeline to go through.

Why then would Earthjustice believe that Obama will stop drilling in Alaska?

A far more likely scenario is that other drilling projects in Alaska will be withdrawn for the same reason that Shell pulled out. Operational costs are high and the appetite for fossil fuels is falling, at least in the U.S. Investors are losing their passion for the industry, accusing the extraction industries of lacking capital discipline — investing in new projects even when it’s clear they’re not going to pay out.

And environmentalists are lining up to keep the pressure on, inflicting legal and reputational costs. The next wave of Keystone Pipeline protests starts Monday night. The fossil fuel divestment movement continues to gain support. Just last week, 17 foundations with investments of almost $2 billion joined the movement, citing portfolio risks posed by climate change. A juggernaut of moral imperative has been released, creating a lever that sometimes works in synchronicity with business and investors and definitely leads the government.

Photo courtesy of NASA/Kathryn Hansen via Flickr.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaska, CSR, energy independence, environmentalists, extraction industries, Uncategorized, Royal Dutch Shell, sustainability, U.S. shale, investment, 17 foundations, Carol Pierson Holding, Chukchi Sea, CSRHub, Earthjustice, Investec, Keystone Pipeline, Neill Morton, oil drilling

Shell’s Arctic Ambitions Cloud Its Common Sense

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 8, 2013 3:41:37 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

 

By Carol Pierson Holding

New Year’s Day 2012 greeted us with headlines that a Shell oil drilling rig had run aground in the Gulf of Alaska. The gravest concerns were for personnel aboard the rig and tugs and the 150,000 gallons of diesel oil and 12,000 gallons of lubricant that the rig contained in its core.

As the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass said that day, “Oil companies keep saying they can conquer the Arctic, but the Arctic keeps disagreeing with the oil companies.”

Shell had a different take. Posted after disaster was averted earlier this week, Shell announced on the home page of its web site that, “For hundreds of years, explorers have battled the Arctic.
 Today, we’re finally winning".

The question is, does Shell have any chance of winning?

The Shell oil rig Kulluk had been held in place with ropes tied to two tow ships until swells as high as 35 feet and winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour forced the crews to drag the vessel 10 miles so it could be grounded on the rocks of Sitkalidak Island.

[csrhubwidget company="Royal-Dutch-Shell" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]
The Kulluk was being moved from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Seattle for maintenance when the storm hit. And the problems started piling up:

  • Engines on one tug failed because of poor fuel quality.
  • A towline on another tow snapped because it didn’t have a proper release.
  • A Coast Guard cutter attempted to secure the drifting oil rig but got the line wrapped around its propellers.
  • The Kulluk, now unsecured, was pitching and rolling so violently that Shell asked the Coast Guard to airlift its personnel so safety. The Rescue efforts involved multiple cutters, ships and aircraft.
  • The second tug was ordered to separate from the Kulluk for its own safety.

And on and on, day after day. As Thomas Ostebo, Commander, 17th District Coast Guard, said in a statement, “I applaud the efforts of all the vessels on scene and their courage in the face of almost impossible odds.”

Shell doesn’t seem to have anticipated even possible odds. According to a US government report, the beached Kulluk was built to withstand wave heights when disconnected (ie, not drilling) of 40 feet, assuming a storm duration of 24 hours. The storm currently trapping the rig has reached at least 35 feet and was wailing for at least four days.

This is crazy when you realize that this storm was far from the worst possible scenario. This was the fourth major storm this winter and it wasn’t even hurricane-strength. Just around the Kenai Peninsula in Anchorage, a weather station has measured wind speeds of up to 85 mph and higher.

Shell seems to have problems with every foray into Arctic drilling. As Fuel Fix reminds us:

“Other high-profile mishaps included the drifting of Shell’s contracted drillship Noble Discoverer near Dutch Harbor, Alaska last summer. Later, Shell’s first-of-its-kind spill containment barge was damaged during certification tests. Finally, weeks after drilling was done for the year, a fire broke out on the Discoverer’s rig stack, and safety and pollution-control system deficiencies were discovered on the ship in November.”

With the Kulluk, Shell is reminded that the worst environmental damage from oil spills happens while transporting the oil, as when the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound, ironically not far from the current oil rig mishap.

Remember what caused the Valdez to fail? The captain was drunk.

Human errors can’t be anticipated. But Shell seems also to be sloppy, in matters both big and small. There is the lack of adequate margin in its vessel specifications. Then there’s the vessel’s name, Kulluk. Who would spend nearly $300 million to update a vessel and not change from a name that means “thumb” in Inuit…and “ashtray" in Turkish?

British Columbia is waking to the dangers of allowing oil to be transported so close to its shores. Native tribes, whose salmon rivers will be destroyed if the Kulluk leaks oil, were out in force. One has to wonder, how can Shell continue to claim victory in the face of such appalling failures? As Shell continues to pile insult on injury, our outrage grows.

Photo is courtesy of Alana Sise via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 6,700 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University. 

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CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on over 6,700 companies from 135 industries in 82 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.


 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaska, Natural Resources Committee, Shell, Uncategorized, oil, Oil Rig, Carol Pierson Holding, Kulluk

When Orcas Are Shareholders

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 24, 2011 9:11:23 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

Merging Environmentalism & Business Process

 

By Carol Pierson Holding

Orca-jesolsen

This month, the Orca Whale was added to the constituencies fighting for the West Coast’s beloved but increasingly degraded Chinook Salmon population. This after 60 people spent 4 years developing a plan to protect the Chinook in Puget Sound. The compelling goal, “to lead the region toward a legacy of healthy, harvestable salmon and improved water quality for future generations,” brought together citizens and scientists; community, business, and environmental groups; and local elected officials and public agency staff. And, just two months ago, their science-based plan was ratified by 24 local governments.                               

Now the plan must be re-formulated.

It turns out that the Orca, an endangered species itself, requires enormous quantities of Chinook salmon to survive. Far more than previously estimated when the agreements were conceived. NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has asked Washington state and Indian tribes that fish in the area to submit a two-year plan for insuring that the endangered whales have enough salmon to sustain themselves.

The backlash has already started. "You can't bring back Orcas just on the backs of fishermen," Joel Kawahara, who fishes commercially in Washington and Alaska, told UPI. "What about improving habitat? What about the effects of the dams on the Columbia River?" The constituents who worked so long and so hard might have to come together again to deal with NOAA’s new requirements.

What strikes me about this issue is that, by injecting a new environmental parameter, the Orcas are adding the pressure needed for a true breakthrough— a new paradigm modeled on environmental processes rather than capitalist structure. Think of the progress we’ve made in less than 25 years to balance the needs of man and nature. First, US business, with the help and prodding of the insurance industry, figured out how to integrate environmental risk into business projections. This was the first successful monetization of the cost of bad behavior toward the environment, but it relied completely on the capitalist model, on boiling everything to down to its economic value.

Then business learned to negotiate with opposing groups, even radical activists like Greenpeace, and still make a profit. To the monetary value of good environmental practices was added the value of relationships, which both diffuse activists and protect or even grow brand loyalty with those customers who are environmentalists themselves.

Now the Orca in Puget Sound add another twist: environmental preservation requires not just a broad cross-sector effort but also an on-going effort. Because the physical world is so interdependent and always changing, an environmental agreement or “fix” is never permanent. Instead business must create structures for a permanent relationship with nature, just as it has with human impediments; structures that insure constant interaction.

So how does the concerned citizen/consumer/investor judge which companies are most prepared to manage the on-going environmental challenge? The attributes measured by CSRHUB are the best way to look at a company’s current behavior. But for those looking to predict the future, it may be most useful to look for evidence of organizational structures for on-going collective action on the environment.

Look for companies that have teams in place for permanent environmental interaction, councils on which senior executives participate led by skilled negotiators. Once common, these councils are disappearing as the economic malaise continues. Use your consumer and investor power to force companies to fund these councils. They establish the importance of relationships — with humans and nature — to succeeding in business. And we save the whales too.


Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaska, CSR, fisheries, fishing, NOAA, preservation, Puget Sound, Uncategorized, UPI, Washington, insurance industry, Orca Whale, Orcinus Orca, sustainability, Joel Kawahara, business, Carol Pierson Holding, Chinook Salmon, corporate responsibility, CSRHub, environment, environmental, Greenpeace, Killer Whale

Environment, Social and Governance Factors Merge in Climate Justice

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 28, 2010 9:19:52 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

Recently, I met Jeni Krencicki Bareclos and Jennifer Marlow, co-founders of Three Degrees Warmer, a University of Washington-based project that provides legal protections for the victims of climate change. One of their inspirations is a legal case that the Native Alaskan Village of Kivalina brought against some of the nation’s largest producers of oil, gas, and electric power. Kivalina’s 400 members and 107 buildings have to be moved because the permafrost on which the community is built is melting. The plaintiff’s case argues that the damage, estimated at $95-400 million in relocation costs, should be paid by the oil and gas companies who are responsible.

Kivalina is basing its case on the same argument that was used successfully against the tobacco companies, where big tobacco was convicted of conspiring to suppress information about the health hazards from cigarette smoking. In this case, one argument is that the oil and gas companies conspired to create false “scientific” information that created questions about what would have otherwise been accepted as incontrovertable, that human action is responsible for global warming. The argument follows that these companies created enough doubt to delay serious efforts to limit or reverse climate change, thereby exacerbating the climate change that destroyed the Kivalina’s community habitat.

The case was dismissed in U.S. District Court and is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court. But whether or not Kivalina is successful, the fact that the argument has been heard in at least one court is validation that the key issues in corporate social responsibility are inextricably linked. This case proves the case for environmental justice, linking climate change to a devastating social injustice. If the case is truly the result of conspiracy and fraud as the plaintiffs claim  — and they say that records exist that will prove their argument in discovery — then good governance is a part of this as well.

All of which argues that you can’t have one CSR factor — or measurement — without factoring in the others as well.

Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website, www.holding.com.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaska, climate change, corporate social responsibility, CSR, CSRHUB opinion, ESG, governance, social injustice, University of Washington Climate Center, Three Degrees Warmer, tobacco, Kivalina, oil, Carol Pierson Holding, climate justice, environmental justice, gas and electric power

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