Thursday, July 26, 2012

Media roundup

A few media leftovers for a slow summer’s day...
On the heels of Rachael Jonassen’s recent post on why corporations are addressing climate change, a quick piece by the Weather Channel’s Carl Parker on what some of the private sector’s most prominent members are saying.

Here's a great (albeit long) discussion of our recent weather, including a nice explanation of how this fits in with the climate change discussion by comparing the recent weather to Major League Baseball's "Steroid Era."
Finally, while I was doing some housecleaning, I remembered that I hadn’t yet shared the audio of an interview I did with WNEW-FM (99.1), the new CBS NewsRadio station here in the Washington, DC area. Here are the two pieces done by WNEW’s Chas Henry, in which we discuss the national security implications of climate change.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Companies Address Climate Change

Arne Mogren spent over two decades at Vattenfall Energy Company in Sweden. He remembered when he began work at Vattenfall there was just one person working there on wind energy. Today there are 500! Wind is just one of the areas where employment in climate-related industries has exploded. Solar, energy finance, carbon trading, biofuels, energy retrofits, automobiles, carbon capture… all are growing opportunities for employment, and profit.

Not too many years ago, it was unusual for companies to hire climate change experts at the senior level. Now, companies looking for growth opportunities look for a senior level picture of the landscape. And all companies need a strategic vision of how they fit in this new landscape, how they can shape it to their needs, and how they can benefit from the new opportunities.

And even as agile companies jump on the new opportunities for growth through new products and services, they must respond to new internal needs and new structural challenges posed by climate change.

Agile businesses now have climate change to consider.
Let me give just three examples that help to illustrate why your company needs to rethink internal process and infrastructure issues.

Absenteeism is always a concern in a company but successful companies have found ways to address it. Employee health is a leading cause of missed workdays and heat stress is one important contributor. This summer a record setting heat wave extended from Washington DC to the middle of the country. The average temperature for the entire US in June was 2°F above the average for the 20th century. The most recent twelve months was the warmest ever observed (back to 1895). Such great heat, and for such long periods, is the real culprit in heat stress related illness and employee missed work. How will your company, and your employees deal with this?

This heat hurts employees, and it hurts logistical operations for companies. If you rely on railroads to transport your products, or to get raw materials, you probably noticed some issues in delivery as rails buckled in the heat and trains were slowed, redirected the long way around, or simply unable to operate. Even the Metro here in Washington had to adjust to buckled rails. Smart companies understand that this may become the new normal and have planned for it.  Indeed, really smart companies are planning ways to offer new goods or services because they see this as an opportunity. 

The Metro Green Line in Washington, DC, is inspected for ‘heat kinks’ that cause the tracks to buckle dangerously.
But it’s not just your employees and logistics that the heat affects. It also can impact your infrastructure in many ways. Certainly the cost of cooling was a big issue this month. And if you are dealing with perishable goods such unplanned expense impacts your competitive position.  You may have heard of all the restaurants giving away food that was going to spoil. Did they plan for the heat?  Did they plan for lots more months like this?  Did they think about increasing insurance for this? Do the insurance companies have products for the increased risk? Well, it turns out that the big reinsurance companies like Swiss Re and Munich Re have been developing risk models that incorporate climate change for two decades. They might be a winner in this new world. The restaurant owner: he or she might be a loser. Which do you want to be?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Balancing Act: Technology and a Changing Climate

We love our technology.

Consider how we follow it, with blogs and columns devoted to following the top innovators in the same way we follow our favorite sports team. Consider how it permeates all facets of our lives, from home to work, from the car we drive to the way we shop. And when you realize what technology means to us, it’s abundantly clear that we need to protect it, and while keeping its impact on the safe side of harmful.

So that’s the double-edge sword: we can leverage technology, information and emerging processes and platforms to help answer a changing climate’s mitigation and adaptation questions. And at the same time we must be acutely aware of what our technology does to the environment.

In the book, we used Google as a good example of how computing can drive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Granted, there’s some disagreement as to how much CO2 is put into the atmosphere—but no one disputes the fact that it does. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s stick with Google’s assertion that a single web-based search generates about 0.2 grams of CO2. According to the search engine giant,

“...the average car driven for one kilometer (0.6 miles for those in the U.S.) produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches.”

So how much data is being used, if we accept that the many, many Google searches that take place each day are just the tip of the usage iceberg? Consider this infographic, which can be mind-blowing.

It probably took you more than a minute to digest this, meaning the numbers are now bigger.

So clearly we have a responsibility to support technology that helps lessen the impact of data usage to atmospheric GHG, and in turn support innovation that further addresses this concern.

Still, our technology must be protected, certainly from the impacts of a changing climate. It’s central to so much that we do. A recent post on the Wonkblog reinforced just how much air conditioning has revolutionized our lives, from our economy to our comfort to our diets. It cites this study by Northwestern University researchers that makes the case that high temperatures left unchecked by the magic of central air can result in severe cuts to economic output, worker productivity, political instability, and in severe cases, fragile states that become threats to our national security. So there’s that to consider. As the recent Super Derecho of 2012 taught us, we need our technology intact to power the electrical grid, to help us maintain contact with critical services and loved ones, and to avert a public health crisis when temperature either drop or skyrocket.

Also, consider that the Google searches that I mentioned earlier could in fact be providing people with the information they need without driving to a library—so it’s not all bad to have this capability in hand.

The balancing act comes to a head when a company makes a decision that seems to fly in the face of sound environmental policy. The world’s most valuable company, Apple, Inc., is itself dealing with that quandary right now.

Until last week, 39 of Apple’s products sat comfortably on the list of devices certified by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. That is, until Apple requested that the organization remove those 39 products. Why is this significant? The move effectively removes Apple from being part of some public sector procurement efforts—San Francisco, for one, whose Department of Environment sent a letter to their government agencies announcing that Apple laptops and desktops are no longer qualified purchases.

Apple responded by explaining their frustration with the EPEAT standards, which even the governing organization admits are old. And to Apple’s credit, they’ve been at the forefront of positive news for their efforts to develop green data centers to support their various cloud-based services. Apple’s not alone—Google and a host of other tech companies have been very open about their efforts to lessen the GHG impact of their operations. 
 Apple recently won approval to build a 20-megawatt solar farm at their new data center in North Carolina

We can’t run from technology just because it’s a burden of the environment; it’s just too important to what we do, and what we need to accomplish on a day-to-day basis. And we need to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to keep our world running (that’s the adaptation side of this). But much of the mitigation efforts that some think is still a means for slowing climate change impacts can be fueled by technology, just as it can be inhibited. So a conversation needs to happen now. We need stakeholders at the table to figure out what works best—and how we’re going to make it happen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lessons Learned from an Epic Storm

At LMI’s annual Family Picnic on Saturday, the hot topic of conversation was the devastating impacts that the region endured beginning with Friday night’s epic storm. On a day where temperatures easily exceeded 100°F, many, if not all the people I spoke with didn’t yet have power at home. Today’s Monday Tuesday and many of them still don’t.

We can’t say this event, labeled an “in-land hurricane” by some, a “super derecho” by others, is related to a changing climate. I’d just as soon rather not dwell the cause, and focus on the facts.

This event:
·         Lasted 12 hours during its 700 mile run from Indiana to the mid-Atlantic coast
·         Featured gusting winds in excess of 70mph, with some places experiencing 91mph gusts
·         Left more than 1 million without power in the Washington, D.C. area alone (and 2.2 million overall, with “catastrophic damage” to the electrical grid).

The ferocity and timing are amazing to consider. That a storm could sweep through (And quickly! At my house it was a violent half hour and then it was over) and coincide with record high temperatures, is something few could have expected.

Consider the broad impact: the storm damage has disrupted infrastructure and the supply chain, along with regional IT and communications capabilities—parts of Northern Virginia were without 911 services for the entire weekend, and major cloud-based services operated by Amazon, Netflix, Instatgram and Pinterest were among the casualties. These were not small fish that were knocked out, reinforcing just how bad things were.

Add to that the public health issues. Already, the region was bracing for high temperatures—with the standard alerts and warnings that come with a forecasted heat wave. But no one envisioned such an event in which people would be forced to deal with the heat without the benefits of power for air conditioning, cell phone service for checking in on loved ones and coordinating activities, or clean water to drink.

A woman and her great-granddaughter at a Red Cross cooling shelter in Lynchburg, Va. Photo credit: Parker Michels-Boyce/AP
Again, whether or not climate change is at the root of this remains inconsequential so much as what organizations are prepared to do to adapt to these types of events.

This is the type of cross-functional impact that we talk about in our new climate change book—events with impacts that cross over to other areas and demand collaborative action from a multitude of agencies and stakeholders on every level. Whether they represent the private or public sectors, organizations have got to begin developing plans of action to account for their people, processes, and assets when debilitating events occur.

Whether it’s a better system for early warnings, using social media for first response, building hardened infrastructure, or adapting your supply routes, these are wise strategies that should be adopted by state, local, and federal governments, and supported and adopted by private sector organizations. It’s the smart thing to do. And if we do have an event that we can definitively chalk up to climate change, then we’re that much better prepared to respond.