Apparently Wal Mart runs a blog and one of its contributors is Rand Wadoops, a director at the company focused on sustainability issues. He had a post earlier in the week noting that he had just finished reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma.
One of Pollan’s main points is that industrial food production and consumption is problematic from a health, environmental, and social standpoint. Wadoops asks–in conjunction with this reading of Pollan–what can be done to “make the industrialized food chain better” and what sorts of products should Wal Mart stock (or not stock) in the name of sustainability?
The comments section of the blog offer interesting suggestions. But I think Marion Nestle from NYU has an interesting (but undeveloped) answer. She suggests that they focus on processes of production rather than specific products. I take this to mean that the company can develop a set of sustainability standards and then hold its producers to a set of rigorous standards.
Another point, which I didn’t see addressed by Waloops’ commentators is whether an “industrialized” food system is even compatible with sustainability. Is it even structurally possible for a large-scale multinational food provider to develop a decentralized system of purchasing and distribution?
Christopher Leinberger from the Brookings Institution has an article posted on the Atlantic Monthly website predicting the slumming of the suburb. The latest wave of foreclosures that have been symptomatic of the mortgage crisis, Lienberger argues, are creating problems with crime, squatting, and other anti-social behavior in relatively calm suburban areas.
Rather than chalking up the problem simply to the vicissitudes of the housing bubble, Leinberger argues that suburbs are unlikely to bounce back. Cities and urbanized, inner-ring suburbs have been desirable for the past decade or so and Leinberger does not see a reason to think that the trend will reverse.
Given the rise in energy prices and commute times, it seems like Leinberger is sound. Of course one obstacle facing urban resurgence is the inadequate upkeep on key elements of the infrastructure–particularly in the realm of transportation. Suburbs face transportation maintenance issues as well, but aging systems in urban areas–whose attractiveness is often associated with multiple options for mobility–are in a poor position to adapt to newfound growth without adequate public financing.
The Alaskan village of Kivalina is suing some of the country’s largest oil and energy countries for damages incurred due to climate change.
Kivalina is located on a barrier island in northwestern Alaska on the Chukchi Sea. According to the New York Times, the village has experienced flooding and an eroding coastline for a number of years and the inhabitants and all structures are being forced to relocate.
Because of the association between anthropogenic climate change and rising sea levels, the village has decided to sue large energy companies like Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips for complicity in facilitating global warming which has caused them damages.
The suit has just been filed, but if Kivalina wins it could be historic–a monetary liability for human-induced global warming would be identified. The suit is being filed for $400 million in damages for relocation of the village (although a 2006 relocation study by the Army Corps of Engineers placed the relocation costs at around $250 million).
Stefan Milkowski, reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner maintains an interesting blog on climate change in Alaska and the challenges facing circumpolar communities like Kivalina.
British Columbia’s Finance Minister Carole Taylor presented a proposal for a provincial tax on carbon last week. This marks the first attempt at such a scheme in North America.
The policy is designed to be revenue-neutral, whereby the new tax on carbon will be offset with decreases in income, corporate, and small business taxes. Additionally, people with a low enough income will be given carbon tax credits and each BS resident will get a one-time $100 “climate change dividend” paymen.
If passed British Columbians can expect to pay an extra 2.5 centers per litre of gasoline beginning July 1, 2008. All of the major gaseous, solid and liquid fuels will see tax increases rising incrementally from a base rate of $10 per tonne of CO2 emissions beginning later this year and rising $5 each subsequent year until 2012 when a tonne of emissions will cost $30.
This is a pretty bold move on the part of B.C. But it is unlikely to be imitated anywhere in North America anytime soon. Earlier today, Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty, rejected the concept for his province while the federal Environment Minister, John Baird has also nixed the idea.
The plan itself can be downloaded in .pdf form from the provincial website.
The Washington Post is reporting that the US Environmental Protection Agency is trying to allow factory farms to forego reporting of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions.
Currently large-scale emissions of these substances–which are often the product of animal waste generated in industrial feed lots–must be reported so local municipalities and citizens know of the existence of hazardous substances. The Post article posits this as another example of the Bush Administration favoring large corporations by making environmental regulations more lenient. In this case, however, communities will not have the hard data needed to guage the extent of risk inherent in these industries.
The regulation changes are not a done deal. According to the Federal Register, the public comment period lasts until the end of next month.
The Persian Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi broke ground yesterday on its $22 billion carbon-neutral planned development, Masdar. The city is designed to be free of automobile traffic, powered by solar and hydrogen energy, and equipped with a solar-powered desalinization plant to provide water.
Slated to be home to 50,000 residents by 2016, it represents a distinct change in therms of economic and ecological diversification for Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich emirate with one of the largest carbon footprints in the world.
The city is being designed by the British firm, Foster and Partners and has ambitions to be a center for renewable energy research, manufacturing, and development.
The second day of the US-sponsored Major Economies meeting on climate change ended yesterday without any agreements. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, delegates reasserted their commitment to build upon the Bali Road Map which calls for a post-Kyoto treaty to be hashed out by the end of 2009.
If anything was accomplished, it was limited to “building good will” between the US and its adversaries who want more action on reducing emissions. While the French delegation expressed frustration that the US was “lagging behind,” others were more sanguine. British environment minister Phil Woolas noted increasing flexibility on the part of the US.
It seems increasingly unlikely that the Bush Administration will radically change its position against mandatory emissions restrictions, thus EU countries and other international figures will patiently await the results of the US election next November. Both Democratic candidates and the leading Republican candidate have expressed support for cap-and-trade systems for emissions reductions. Bush will doubtlessly continue these meetings of the major economies and ministers will certainly turn up, but substantive agreements will likely be lacking.