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Ask the Plants for Help Adapting to Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 12, 2016 12:58:11 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

Three interconnected firs Hoh sm (1)

Last week on CBS News I watched a piece about Dutch farmer Marc van Rijsselberghe, who is running experiments in the Texel Islands, Netherlands, to grow potatoes using in salt-ridden land. As more and more salty water seeps through the Dutch dykes onto its farmland, van Rijsselberghe and others are finding ways to adapt.

When CBS asks van Rijsselberghe how he knows which test strain will work, he says, “We ask the plants.”  Whether they live or die in salty soil dictates which strains will be sent to other places suffering salt-induced soil degradation.

 

It’s a huge piece of climate adaptation: The problem of salt-water intrusion affects 20 percent of the world's irrigated lands, up 37% since the early 1990s. Rising sea levels and reductions in usable water are driving this rapid increase. Once van Rijsselberghe identified strains of saltwater-loving potatoes, they were shipped to Pakistan where they are being successfully used in land formerly unusable for agriculture due to salt incursion.

I’ve heard more than a few people involved in the climate change movement despair that we’re too late. And maybe we are if we go at the problem thinking we have to solve it by ourselves. But what if we can tap into the intelligence of plants? Not just through binary experimentation — planting thirty varieties of potato to see which will grow in saltwater as van Rijsselberghe did — but to go further, even find new ways to absorb the excess carbon that’s leading to climate catastrophe?

We know that plants have their own intelligence. Ten years ago, Jeremy Narby codified scientific studies that prove so in Intelligence in Nature. Narby calls it “problem-solving at all levels of life” and describes the findings in a 2013 talk for Bioneers:

“Bees handle abstract concepts, slime molds solve mazes, and plants gauge the world around them. Science itself is evolving, moving away from a mechanical understanding of nature.”

We know that fungi clean up toxins and trees gobble carbon. German forester Peter Wohlleben goes even further. In his book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Wohlleben makes a compelling case for an arboreal social life that values the forest community over the individual tree. Tree roots feed each other, sacrificing their own growth to supplement the nutrition for a weaker member of their species, keeping alive young trees so that they can develop tougher trunks, which as they grow will in turn feed and shade older trees.

The biggest threat to the forest is not climate change but other species, notably humans:

“As climactic conditions change…A few old trees will die, but most of the rest of the forest will remain standing. If conditions become more extreme, one tree species could even be decimated without this being the end of the forest. The only proviso is that the social structure of the forest is not disturbed by lumber operations so that the forest can continue to regulate its own microclimate for itself.”

In other words, intra-species dependence is just as important as inter-species. Just as we depend on trees to produce oxygen, trees too depend on other life forms, especially fungi among which tree roots grow, exchange nutrients and share information about, for example, impending insect attacks.

The fact that The Hidden Life of Trees was a bestseller in Germany and is already #13 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list is a testament to its resonance with our own species. Human behavior also tends to be communal when it comes to climate change: residential solar panels are installed in waves, neighborhood by neighborhood. Even corporations act on climate change by industry grouping. Big box retail companies including Wal-mart, Costco and Ikea lead in installing solar panels on their enormous roofs; tech firms such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have committed to renewable energy by building their own solar plants and lobbying – together - for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Like trees, our species’ survival in the face of climate change is most successful when we put community over our individual selves. Imagine if we could also acknowledge what other living things have to teach us — we could expand our universe of potential partners to include all of nature. That’s a revolution in mindset, but oh the rewards.

Photo courtesy of  Carol Pierson Holding.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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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ImpactSpace and CSRHub bring environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings to impact investments

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 4, 2016 9:09:47 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

4 October, 2016 - ImpactSpace, the open database for the impact investing marketplace, is bringing CSRHub’s environmental, social and governance ratings into the world of impact investing.

ImpactSpace users seeking company information will be able to see CSRHub CSR/ESG ratings and data whenever available. CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on more than 16,500 companies.

Similarly, CSRHub’s pages on these companies will be linked to the appropriate page on ImpactSpace.  Additionally, CSRHub users will be able to search for ImpactSpace companies on the CSRHub site.  (This search link shows the 119 companies that are already connected.)

The partnership will bridge the growing marketplace for impact investments and the broader effort to track and report ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) performance. The “impact space” is made up of small companies and private investors, with investments are typically in the millions of dollars. The “ESG” space is inhabited by large, often publicly listed companies, with billion dollar valuations and large institutional investors.

“CSRHub has data on 140,000 smaller companies that it cannot yet rate,” said Bahar Gidwani, chief executive of CSRHub. With help from partners such as ImpactSpace, CSRHub hopes to give many of these smaller companies the opportunity to receive full credit for their sustainability work. This recognition will help them find new customers, attract high quality employees, and receive support from their local communities.”

Impact investors believe there is a business opportunity to support companies for which achieving positive social and environmental outcomes are core objectives. On the ESG side, in general, there are indications that strong ESG ratings signal strong management more broadly.

Both recognize that risk and opportunity are ultimately two sides of the same coin, when it comes to emerging issues such as greenhouse gas reduction, supply chain security and community relations.

“The partnership with CSRHub greatly enhances the value of our datasets for users and expands their scope.” said Zuleyma Bebell, co-founder and director of ImpactSpace.  “Going forward, companies and investors of all sizes can be evaluated and tracked against sustainable development metrics.”

About CSRHub

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 16,511+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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. Contact: Bahar Gidwani, CEO, bahar@csrhub.com.

Csrhub logo

About ImpactSpace
ImpactSpace is the open data platform powering the global impact marketplace. Together with our sister site, ImpactAlpha, we are providing stories and data to investors, entrepreneurs and other market participants driving business advantage with social and environmental impact. Contact Zuleyma Bebell, Director, zbebell@impactalpha.com

Impact Space

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CSRHub’s Cynthia Figge Speaking at Future in Review

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 29, 2016 1:48:13 PM / by CSRHub Blogging

CSRHub COO and Co-founder Cynthia Figge is speaking at the Future in Review (FiRe) Conference today at Stein Eriksen Lodge, Park City, Utah.

Fire in Review

Cynthia is hosting "Human Trafficking and the SNS GRS System in the UK" with Andrew Wallis OBE, Founder and CEO, Unseen UK.

 

With scant data yet an acknowledged growing problem estimated to affect 46 million victims and an illicit trade with profits of at least $150 billion per annum, combatting modern slavery is a critical problem facing societies around the globe.

Andrew Wallis OBE, Founder and CEO of Unseen UK, and Cynthia Figge, Cofounder and COO of CSRHub, discuss this global challenge. Helplines are part of the solution and the UK’s Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre brings us closer to the eradication of modern slavery. Now, victims, the public, statutory agencies and businesses have access to information and support on a 24/7 basis. The next goal is to move to an easily remembered and internationally recognisable 3-digit or 4-digit helpline number. This means anyone can call, regardless of where they are in the world.

Adding to the data gathered from the helpline, redacted data from survivors, law enforcement data and business data, we will begin to be able to analyse and model those data sets to understand the nature, scale and typology of the issue and over time allow big data providers such as CSRHub and others to help us move predictive analysis in combating modern slavery.

Speaker bios:

https://www.futureinreview.com/topics/leaders/cynthia-figge/

https://www.futureinreview.com/topics/leaders/andrew-wallis/

"Human Trafficking and the SNS GRS System in the UK":

  • With Andrew Wallis OBE, Founder and CEO, Unseen UK
  • Hosted by Cynthia Figge, Co-Founder and COO, CSRHub and EKOS International

Future in Review

See more on the Future in Review conference, here.

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Climate Woes Demand Both War and Civil Action

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 21, 2016 10:23:22 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

For at least a decade, I’ve been a huge fan of Bill McKibben, thought leader for the climatesustainability girl
movement. But his most recent article in The New Republic, “A World at War,” falls short.  Subtitled “We’re under attack from climate change — and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII,” his piece uses war as more than an analogy: “It’s not that global warming is like a war. It is a war.”

After reviewing the horrors of global warming, McKibben reports how the U.S. and other nations could deploy renewable energy rapidly enough to reduce fossil fuel emissions 80% by 2030. Using a wholesale industrial retooling akin to WWII to manufacture solar, wind and geothermal equipment, the reconstruction would be ordered and partly paid for by the feds, using existing contracts as leverage to force businesses to comply.

But what McKibben also points out is that after the war had ended, “solidarity gave way to the biggest boom in personal consumption the world had ever seen.” After WWII, materialism was our reward for war’s deprivations.

This time, a boom after “defeating” the climate could lead to even bigger disasters.

McKibben’s right that we need an all out effort to address climate change, but it’s only one solution to the mess we’ve created from our out-of-control consumerism. There’s also the Texas-sized island of plastic swirling in the Pacific Ocean, the jaw-dropping species extinctions, the lethal pollution and toxic chemicals and threatened water supplies. If we simply convert to clean energy without addressing the underlying causes of over-consumption and disregard for the earth, we’ll continue to face the same level of global emergency as climate presents now.

To be clear, the climate is not attacking us and it’s not our enemy. That’s the same twisted philosophy that got us here in the first place, where nature is other rather than part of a single system of which we are a part.

Rebecca Solnit, environmental activist, historian and the author of fifteen books, explains climate justice in this week’s Guardian. Her article on the Dakota Pipeline protests asks, “Is this a new civil rights movement where environmental and human rights meet?” Rather than wage war against climate change, she writes about joining forces with the Native American civil rights movement, as is being done successfully in South Dakota and for years up and down the Pacific Northwest coast.

Like McKibben’s war argument, climate justice is not a new concept. I wrote about it in 2010 for CSRHub.com in a story about the Native Alaskan Village of Kivalina suing big oil for melting their permafrost. I also wrote about the Occupy movement’s Climate Justice day in the Huffington Post: “Environmentalists are defining how environmental destruction and economic inequality are closely connected.”

The concept goes all the way back to Chief Seattle, who is quoted as having said, ““Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

Civil rights are being extended bit by bit to include all of humankind, and those movements will continue. Now we have to expand that same justice and compassion to all life on earth, finding ways to protect the earth and each other while diminishing our need for stuff.

We may need a war-like effort to switch to renewables, but comparing the climate crisis to waging war doesn’t move us forward. We need to heal our environment and, within our environment, ourselves. It’s a change in values that will be a much tougher “war” to win than the one McKibben proposes.

Photo courtesy of  Fibonacci Blue via Flickr CC.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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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Light at the End of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 23, 2016 11:10:26 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

Trans-Alaska Oil PipelineWriting recently for the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Barrett, President of Alyeska which owns and manages the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, bemoans the pipeline’s deterioration due to falling oil production and urges that oil drilling sites be opened in Alaskan seas to increase the oil load and save the pipeline.

But first, Barrett celebrates this amazing scientific and engineering feat. Completed in 1977 for over $8 billion, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs for 800 miles, carrying oil from its source in the North Slope to the port of Valdez. The complexity is mind-boggling: hot oil, maintained at a steady 140 degrees
through external temperatures as low as 60 degrees below zero, is pushed along by eleven pumping stations through pipe wrapped in 4 inches of fiberglass insulation, about half of it buried and half carried above the tundra on 78,000 support structures. The tundra’s temperature is further stabilized through 124,000 heat releasing pipes.

All this while balancing the demands of the pipeline’s powerful owners, primarily BP and Exxon Mobil.

For years, pipeline managers have claimed the pipeline needs more oil. After peaking in 1988 at over 2 million barrels/day, oil production in the North Slope declined, resulting in lower throughput, which leads to cooling oil, which over time results in build-up of sludge and other substances harmful to the pipeline. Barrett’s recommendation is to increase output by opening new oil drilling sites in the Chuchki and Beaufort seas and Cook Inlet near Valdez.

So far, the Interior Department has refused to sell these off-shore oil Alaskan leases, yet conservative forces and Alyeska managers continue to push.

According to Barrett, the only other option is to shut down the pipeline. The pipeline currently carries just a fourth of its maximum capacity, and its load will continue to decline, reducing revenue while requiring costly repairs. And it’s not just repairs caused by low oil flow. Pipeline President Barrett is still catching up on maintenance long-delayed by former Presidents, all but one drawn from member companies whose primary interest was to minimize costs and giving Alyeska poor ratings for environmental performance by ratings company CSRHub.

In addition, the pipeline is now almost forty years old. Insulation is eroding. Pipe seals are breaking. It seems it might be time to retire it anyway.

Climate activist Bill McKibben would agree. In an article in this month’s New Republic, McKibben argues for a “far more stringent effort” to control climate change than the plans agreed to after last year’s Paris Climate Summit. McKibben points to a state-by-state plan developed by American scientists led by Mark Z. Jacobson at Stanford to transition rapidly to renewable energy from sun, wind and water, at the rate of 80-85% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. In Alaska, that would mean shifting to onshore and offshore wind for 70% of energy requirements and another 20% from hydroelectric.

The pipeline solution seems simple, doesn’t it? Instead of investing in oil pipeline maintenance, allow the North Slope oil to run out and the pipeline to degrade, then shut it down, however much it hurts to abandon that miracle of American know how. Invest instead in wind turbines.

One expensive problem remains. When the pipeline was originally built, the agreement reached with native tribes and environmentalists required that upon shutdown, all hazardous pipe, pumps, support structures, etc. must be removed and the land and vegetation restored along the pipeline as well the roads built to assemble it. The cost of disassembly could exceed the pipeline’s original cost.

What incentive does Alyeska have to make good on its promise? Oil and gas is a major source of tax revenue for Alaska and enforcement is notoriously lax. And how would you establish fines for leaving toxic pipe to erode along a 420 mile swath of tundra whose land value is virtually nil but, without which, an entire society’s source of subsistence is destroyed? Where one-third of the world’s soil-bound carbon is stored, then released whenever permafrost melts, adding to climate change?

In the past, regulators have succeeded in extracting even larger clean-up costs from the oil companies. But public outrage has played a huge part, and it may be harder to rouse activists on behalf of an old pipeline and the tundra below. If Alyeska’s owners cannot be pushed into living up to their agreement to dissemble the pipeline, then the task will fall to some combination of state and Federal agencies, and, eventually, American taxpayers. The biggest question is not how, but when.

Photo courtesy of Arthur Chapman via Flickr CC.



Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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 Alyeska, Beaufort, BP, Chuchki, Exxon Mobil, North Slope, oil leases, Thomas Barrett, Trans Alaska Pipeline, Uncategorized, Valdez

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