Playing Chicken with Climate Change
Nobody in the food industry wants to be the first to seriously address climate change. Certainly not the traders who see this as probably the biggest threat to their business, and one that they might not survive. The retailers don’t want to address it; they would prefer that brands take care of the issue as they cheer from the sidelines. And the brands know that they can do nothing on their own, as they are simply not big enough to move markets.
Traders move markets, or at least the goods that move through them. But as GHG emissions are mostly produced during production, the traders have no reason to be the first in declaring their GHG emissions — there is no mover’s advantage. As long as emissions reductions are still voluntary for the food sector, especially Scope 3, where the bulk of the emissions occur, they have nothing to gain and a competitive advantage to lose by moving first.
In the conservation movement, we have developed a strategy for getting entities to commit when everyone is sitting on the fence until someone else jumps off. This is called the “all in” moment. This is when all commitments are implemented at the same time so no one can see what others are doing. Everyone just commits and then jumps in with both feet at the same time.
We are at a point in history when we need everyone to act. The longer we take, the worse it will get and the longer it will take to address the issues that could have been avoided by acting sooner. Governments need to force the issue. Without that, the last to act will most likely be the ones with the most direct or indirect GHG emissions in the products they sell. And without moving the bottom, i.e., the least efficient, we will not be addressing the bulk of GHG emissions or the other impacts of producing food. Think about it. -- Jason
A New Front in the Water Wars: Your Internet Use — Washington Post
For years, data centers have come under scrutiny for their carbon emissions. But now, as drought continues to ravage the Southwest, some communities charge that data centers are also draining local water supplies. In Oregon, a local paper unearthed that a Google data center uses over a quarter of the city’s water.
JC: At one point 15 years or so ago, I was asked to help a major IT company develop a strategy to eliminate fossil fuel-derived sources of energy and replace them all with regionally appropriate renewable energy strategies. It was harder at that time than it would be today, however, because renewable energy could not be produced as cheaply as more GHG-intense energy made from fossil fuel sources. As I recall, it was hydro for the Pacific Northwest, solar for the Southwest, and wind for the Midwest. The Southeast was the hardest, and the company eventually decided on thermal energy using wood chips until other sources of renewable energy became more efficient and the costs declined. The company was looking for the best energy solution. No one was thinking about how important water is as a coolant in data centers. Going forward, we need to tackle multiple issues as we solve “single” problems. And water will be a problem in its own right — in fact, it will be an issue in most of the problems we need to solve going forward.
How Much is the World’s Most Productive River Worth? — GreenBiz
Southeast Asia’s Mekong, known as the "mother of waters," feeds some of the planet’s most fertile farmlands. But how valuable is it in monetary terms? The theory of natural capital suggests that ecosystem services provided by nature have economic value that should be considered when making decisions that affect these systems.
JC: If we are not careful these types of calculations could become like those about how many angels might fit on the head of a pin. Maybe we should be thinking more about not knowing what we have until it is gone. Glaciers in Tibet, a major source of the water flow in the Mekong, are drying up. Moreover, because stream flow has lessened, China has built 11 dams to capture the water for generating energy and for water for agriculture. The Mekong now has lower stream flow during parts of the year than the two other key glacier-fed rivers in China. Reduced stream flow has increased the pumping of water from aquifers and this in turn has caused subsidence — the ground level has sunk and now the delta is more susceptible to flooding, which could spell the end of the delta by the end of the century. Another impact of the Chinese dams is the reduction of sediment that has been key to downstream fertility and economies for centuries. The Mekong divides into a number of smaller rivers in the delta. Today, only seven of nine still have water but the number is expected to be cut in half by the end of the century. Perhaps it is a better idea to save some of these services than to try to put a number on what we are losing. NB: see a VOA or Utrecht report or Milton Osborne, in The Interpreter.
Climate Disclosure Rules Are Coming. Here’s How Companies Are Adapting. — The Wall Street Journal
Companies face rising scrutiny over how they plan to meet promises to decarbonize and track GHG emissions that arise in their supply chains and the use and disposal of their products. Incoming climate-disclosure rules in the U.S. and internationally mean big businesses will soon be expected to track, manage and report on their Scope 3 emissions.
JC: This piece shows how complicated the issue of GHG emissions is for companies. The U.S. S.E.C. has no role in climate change, per se, but it needs to ensure full, fair, and truthful disclosures about material risks. Companies have started to make climate risk disclosures because investors want them. The S.E.C. needs to make sure the information is more consistent and comparable. Both the U.S. and international jurisdictions are supposed to finalize the rules by the end of the summer. S.E.C. officials, however, are already considering easing some of the proposed reporting. Most companies’ GHG emissions come from Scope 3 emissions and particularly from the raw materials and ingredients that they buy to make their products. Few know precisely where, how, or with what impacts their raw materials were produced. The first problem is that most of those selling the raw materials either don’t know or won’t give the information to those who buy from them. And that is in the U.S. and E.U. Companies in other parts of the world are not addressing this issue at all. The second issue is that the methodologies, the boundaries for data collection, and the databases being used to make the calculations vary tremendously. Perhaps most important, they are voluntary and self-reported.
How A.I. and DNA Are Unlocking the Mysteries of Global Supply Chains — The New York Times
Amid growing concern about opacity and abuses in global supply chains, companies and government officials are increasingly turning to technologies like DNA tracking, artificial intelligence, and blockchains to try to trace raw materials from the source to the store.
JC: Increased global trade, and global commodity trade in particular, has been possible because of agreement on the definitions and physical properties that define each commodity. While these are precise when it comes to weights and measures, moisture content, foreign matter, color, etc., they specifically strip away all information about where and how something was produced. Historically, no one cared much about the production impacts of items they were purchasing unless it was to know how to produce them cheaper someplace else. Now companies and the rest of the world need to know how products were produced — and in particular how many GHG emissions are embedded in the products or ingredients they buy. The technologies described above are all about where something was produced — tracing it back to the source. However, knowing how it was produced is less critical than transparency, which is a whole other issue. It is both of these challenges, traceability and transparency, that tie trade to the reduction of impacts. In a very short time, we need global agreement on tools, methodologies, and ways to ensure traceable and transparent products, including how to calculate their most significant impacts.
7 Ways to Accelerate the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture — World Economic Forum
Sustainable agriculture provides a pathway toward a more resilient, equitable and environmentally sustainable food system that benefits everyone on the planet. Adopting these seven sustainable agriculture practices can reverse many of the problems caused by conventional agricultural methods.
JC: At first glance, the basic premise of this piece seems very straightforward. But when you dig into it a little, that changes pretty quickly. Here are a few things that stand out for me. There are three sets of practices named — regenerative, integrated pest management, and agroforestry. The four other items are principles or, better still, strategies: adapt to climate change, advance circularity in agriculture, use digital solutions in supply chains, and use ag tech to ensure predictability. Start with the practices mentioned: They are not the same the world over and they never will be. If we want results, e.g., more sustainable agriculture, then we need to measure results around a few key impacts. Practices should never be the end — rather, just the means. Measurement tells us whether we have done enough to reduce key impacts of producing food with more people and changing diets. That suggests that two ways to accelerate the transition to more sustainable ag would be to reduce food loss and waste and shift consumption. Both would take pressure off of agriculture. But the biggest thing that is missing is that food is too cheap. Moreover, not enough of the price gets to the producer, where the biggest environmental and social impacts are. If that doesn’t change, there will be no sustainable agriculture.
Extending Conservation to Include Earth’s Microbiome — Conservation Biology
Global assessments of biodiversity pay scant attention to the microbial world, and many conservation organizations are largely uninterested in extending their work to microbes. The conservation community must expand its horizon to give greater attention to the rich, dynamic, and vital microbial world.
JC: I have wondered about this issue for several decades. But microbes are not the same as more complex organisms. Conservation organizations have tended to focus on megafauna more than plants or trees. Even when they focus on habitat, it has been in terms of what megafauna will need to survive. Conservation organizations have not focused on microbes that support the biodiversity that they care about keeping alive. It is clear that there are more microbes in soil underneath all types of habitats than wildlife species in those habitats. That is also true in benthic layers in marine environments compared to the water column. However, while microbes are critical to human survival, positively and negatively, studying them is well beyond the current capacity or expertise of conservation organizations. More importantly there is a lot more to be known about microbes, and this falls more in the space of science than conservation. Yet it is obvious that we need to conserve the web of life, large or small, beneficial or harmful. What it comes down to is that there is no one in the conservation community that has the skills required to work with — much less develop — a strategy to best conserve them.