The Arkansas Democrat Gazette published a story on Sunday looking at Wal-Mart’s efforts to become more “green” by highlighting its “experiemental store” in Aurora, Colorado.
The store has many features associated with green design: on-site solar & wind energy, efficiency in lighting and climate control, xeriscaping, and intensive recycling efforts. These are all admirable and likely to save the company money–but to herald Wal-Mart as a standard-bearer of sustainability is bit premature.
The Aurora store is still massively sized, built near an interstate highway, and still relies on global supply chains for virtually all of its merchandise.
Wal-Mart’s efforts seem to be a clear example of “greenwashing.” While the company’s press releases tout that the Aurora store–along with another experimental store in McKinnney, Texas–is being evaluated by government-supported National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it is important to note the there already exists an extensive rating system for green building developed by the US Green Building Council. The LEED system has some shortcomings, to be sure. But if Wal-Mart really wants to develop a green building, it would have much more legitimacy if it strived for one of the LEED designations.
Additionally, as the largest retailer in the US, the company could do much more on the purchasing end–especially by cultivating local manufacturers and requiring their overseas suppliers to meet basic environmental and labor standards. The company has a demonstrated record of environmentally-problematic purchasing.
The could also do a better job at site selection by retrofitting existing buildings, favoring infill rather than rezoned agricultural land, and stop their practice of constructing “throwaway buildings” which are abandoned after a short period of time.
It would have been interesting to see the recent exchange between environmental author Bill McKibben and a Wal-Mart Vice Presdient at last month’s Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Vermont. Apparently, McKibben offered some trenchant critique of the company. His compatriots in Vermont have come up with interesting alternatives to Wal-Mart’s “big box” design that could be a different model for sustainability than the one currently being pursued by the company.
Yesterday’s New York Times reported that Boulder, Colorado passed what is believed to be the first carbon tax in the United States. The referendum [.pdf], which appeared on the November 7th ballot, passed overwhelmingly with a 60% majority.
The tax will be levied on electricity consumption beginning in April and extending to March, 2013. Revenues will be used by the city’s Office of Environmental Affairs to pay for implementing the city’s ambitious Climate Action Plan [.pdf], which was approved by the city council following the passage of a resolution in 2002 indicating the community’s interest in meeting greenhouse gas emission targets laid out in the Kyoto Protocol.
The plan focuses on three main areas: improving energy efficiency, increasing the use of renewable energy, and reducing the amount of greenhouse gases stemming from transportation. The Climate Action Plan is quite detailed and the fact that there is a funded mandate for implementation suggests that the community is serious about reducing emissions. Boulder will undoubtedly be closely watched by other municipalities in the US–especially those that have signed on to the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and the participants in last week’s mayors conference on climate change in Sundance, Utah.
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today on efforts to figure out how California will reduce its carbon emissions over the next 15 years.
When Governor Schwarzenegger announced in August that the state would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the year 2020, little specificity was given to how such a goal would be achieved.
According to the article, the legislature has given the California Air Resources Board wide latitutde in developing a strategy. The state will likely have an emissions trading scheme similar to ones in the northeastern US, the EU, and the voluntary Chicago Climate Exchange.
However, the efficacy of emissions trading–which normally caps emissions for large industries–is questionable in the long run given the fact that 41% of California’s emissions stem from transportation. In the EU the percentage is smaller–28%–but rising.
Much of this has to do with a historic failure to address the problems with dominant land use policy that requires extensive automobile travel. It will be interesting to see if California winds up taking on the problem of regional planning as they figure out how to implement policies to reach their ambitious goal.
Via Talking Points Memo, the Center for American Progess has posted a video of outgoing chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, being interviewed on Fox News.
He continues his crazy denial of anthropogenic climate change by blaming the scientifc consensus that has emerged regarding the problem on George Soros and “Hollywood elitists.” He also asserts that we shouldn’t worry about it anyway since “God is still up there.”
Crutzen deliberately wants to shock policymakers into action with this proposal, since its sustainability is suspect. SO2 concentration can result in both acid rain and can contribute to ozone depletion.
This type of scheme represents a glaring example of using a “technological fix” for a problem that could more reasonably be addressed by reducing carbon emissions.
Canada is on the receiving end of criticism this week at the UN Climate Change Conference in Nairobi for its waffling on the country’s Kyoto committments. Before she left for Nairobi Tory Environment Minister Rona Ambrose appeared to be equivocating on CTV, claiming that the country was “on track to meet all of our obligations under the Kyoto protocol but not the target.”
Things didn’t get much better when she arrived in Kenya. After Kofi Anan’s speech yesterday decrying the “frightening lack of leadership” to address the issue of emission reductions, critics started to speculate that the Canadians were among those implicated by the Secretary General.
The French Envrionment Minister, Nelly Olin, for example, expressed disappointment at the Canadian government’s likely retreat from Kyoto. Activists at the conference associated with the Climate Action Network awarded Canada the “top fossil” at the Nairobi talks.
Senator Barbara Boxer of California led a group of colleagues who will be key senatorial committee chairs in the next US Congress in formulating a letter to President Bush asking him to work with them on climate change legislation.
There is little specificity in the letter in terms of what any proposed legislation might look like, but in the past all three senators have supported manditory emission limits. Some environmentalists are seeing the fact that the top Bush Administration official at the Nairobi conference, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, did not automatically reject the idea of mandatory limits in an interview yesterday as a positive step.
In the interim, the somewhat unstable outgoing chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jim Inhofe, is not leaving quietly. In a press conference today he said that the United Nations is using the climate change conference to “brainwash” kids.
I had mentioned a couple of days ago that one of the significant results from last week’s Congressional election in the US was that Barbara Boxer will be replacing James Inhofe as the chair of the major Senate environmental committee.
One of the likely casualties of this transition will be Mark Morano, the Committee’s current spokesman. He cut his teeth working as a producer for the right-wing talk show host, Rush Limbaugh before being appointed as Inhofe’s propagandist. In this latter role, he has focused his time on manufacturing non-existent “controversy” over the existence of anthropogenic factors in climate change.
It seems that he is not willing to go down quietly in anticipation of the partisan swing in the Senate. Earlier today, Morano attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Nairobi as a participant on a panel convened by the Oslo-based Center for International Climate and Environmental Research on “Communicating Climate Change.” Morano apparently shilled his “climate change skepticism” line and was roundly dismissed by fellow panelists and audience members.
Luckily Morano will be likely be off the government payroll–or at least his position will be diminished–come January. But one wonders about the wisdom, or even the purpose, of sending him on the taxpayers dime to Nairobi to talk nonsense on behalf of the Congress.
In addition to Mayor David Miller being overwhelmingly re-elected yesterday as Mayor of Toronto, the Star is reporting on a whole swath of candidates in the suburbs who have been elected on anti-sprawl platforms.
This is especially the case in the Durham Region where four new mayors and numerous councilors have been elected on their pledges to promote land preservation and restrictions on development.
This should bode well for the provincial efforts of the last year or so which call on municipalities to concentrate growth in particular areas while preserving green space. There was a tendency amongst some of the politicos in the “905″ suburbs to be skeptical of provincial motives. With more sympatetic local politicans, there may be more acceptance of the proivincial restrictions in the name of regional planning.
From the Chicago Sun Times travel section, there is a short mention about how ski resorts in the United States are concerned about global warming and have taken to both using renewable energy and to highlighting their “sustainability.”
However, these efforts seem more like marketing rather than indicative of a substantive change in behavior. Downhill skiing relies upon deforestation, the intensive use of water (and energy) for snowmaking, as well as fossil fuel-intensive transportation networks for getting people to the slopes. All of these elements contribute in particular ways to problems associated with climate change.
Downhill ski resorts are essentially examples of an industrial model of tourism, hooked into global flows of captial and markets. Whether this industry can be balanced with “sustainable” practices is questionable. Earlier this year, the website Grist, did an informative story looking at dilemma facing the ski industry.