From Der Spiegel:

Indeed, the statistics are impressive. It’s estimated that some 50,000 wind turbines have been exported from this mini-kingdom between the North and Baltic seas, nearly 50 percent of the wind-powered generators worldwide. But sales are declining now that large industrialized nations, such as India, China and the US, are emulating the Danes’ success.

In addition to the graceful, towering turbines made of fiberglass and steel, however, Denmark has also given the world a shining example of sustainability: The parliamentary monarchy is widely seen as a laboratory and model for how an entire country can make the transition away from coal, oil and gas and toward energy generated from renewable resources.

Today, already 24 percent of the electricity consumed in Denmark comes from wind power — a world record. There are plans to increase this to 50 percent by 2020, and the country intends to become entirely independent of fossil fuels by 2050.

Check out the rest of the article here.

(Photo source: Der Spiegel)

There is no bigger problem in Rio de Janeiro than the risk of losing lives from climate catastrophes, so we have been preparing ourselves. For the first time we’re adopting a culture of disaster prevention with a new emblematic project that is the “Center of Operations.” This is basically a high-end technology situation room, and it has really promoted a culture change in public administration in the city.

We’re also making strong-and-robust changes to the city’s infrastructure. We’re revitalizing the port area to prepare for sea-level rises, and we’re adapting all-new major engineering plans to be prepared for the new climate scenarios we’re expecting in the next decades.

Rio+20 social media storm: #endfossilfuelsubsidies

Countries will be asked this summer to sign up for 10 new sustainable development goals for the planet and promise to build green economies at the first earth summit in 20 years.

According to a leak of the draft agenda document seen by the Guardian, they will also be asked to negotiate a new agreement to protect oceans, approve an annual state of the planet report, set up a major world agency for the environment, and appoint a global “ombudsperson”, or high commissioner, for future generations. Dozens of heads of state, political leaders and celebrities are expected to go to the UN’s Rio+20 sustainable development meeting, to be held in Brazil in June.

Unlike the 1992 earth summit when over 190 heads of state set in motion several legally binding environment agreements, leaders this time will not be asked to sign any document that would legally commit their countries to meeting any particular targets or timetables. Instead, they will be asked to set their own targets and work voluntarily towards establishing a global green economy which the UN believes will reduce poverty and slow consumption. 

(The Guardian)

Collage source: Rio+20

Leaders in Sustainability: RIP Dr. Elinor Ostrom, First Female Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics

In this short video for the Stockholm Resilience Centre Dr. Ostrom: 

explains how people can use natural resources in a sustainable way based on the diversity that exists in the world.


Leading scientific groups and most climate scientists say we need to decrease global annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least half of current levels by 2050 and much further by the end of the century. And that will still mean rising temperatures and sea levels for generations.

So why bother recycling or riding your bike to the store? Because we all want to do something, anything. Call it “action bias.” But, sadly, individual action does not work. It distracts us from the need for collective action, and it doesn’t add up to enough. Self-interest, not self-sacrifice, is what induces noticeable change. Only the right economic policies will enable us as individuals to be guided by self-interest and still do the right thing for the planet.

Every ton of carbon dioxide pollution causes around $20 of damage to economies, ecosystems and human health. That sum times 20 implies $400 worth of damage per American per year. That’s not damage you’re going to do in the distant future; that’s damage each of us is doing right now. Who pays for it?

We pay as a society. My cross-country flight adds fractions of a penny to everyone else’s cost. That knowledge leads some of us to voluntarily chip in a few bucks to “offset” our emissions. But none of these payments motivate anyone to fly less. It doesn’t lead airlines to switch to more fuel-efficient planes or routes. If anything, airlines by now use voluntary offsets as a marketing ploy to make green-conscious passengers feel better. The result is planetary socialism at its worst: we all pay the price because individuals don’t.

It won’t change until a regulatory system compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution accordingly. Limit, of course, is code for “cap and trade,” the system that helped phase out lead in gasoline in the 1980s, slashed acid rain pollution in the 1990s and is now bringing entire fisheries back from the brink. “Cap and trade” for carbon is beginning to decrease carbon pollution in Europe, and similar models are slated to do the same from California to China.

Alas, this approach has been declared dead in Washington, ironically by self-styled free-marketers. Another solution, a carbon tax, is also off the table because, well, it’s a tax.

Never mind that markets are truly free only when everyone pays the full price for his or her actions. Anything else is socialism. The reality is that we cannot overcome the global threats posed by greenhouse gases without speaking the ultimate inconvenient truth: getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.

High school science tells us that global warming is real. And economics teaches us that humanity must have the right incentives if it is to stop this terrible trend.

Don’t stop recycling. Don’t stop buying local. But add mastering some basic economics to your to-do list. Our future will be largely determined by our ability to admit the need to end planetary socialism. That’s the most fundamental of economics lessons and one any serious environmentalist ought to heed.

Infographic | Climate Change & Cities: ’Forget Superheroes: Local Government to the Rescue’
From The Carbon Disclosure Project:

In 2011 CDP Cities collected climate change data from 48 cities around the world. Our first ever infographic celebrates the actions taken by local governments to ensure that cities remain safe places to live and do business despite the effects of climate change. 

More here.

Infographic | Climate Change & Cities: ’Forget Superheroes: Local Government to the Rescue’

From The Carbon Disclosure Project:

In 2011 CDP Cities collected climate change data from 48 cities around the world. Our first ever infographic celebrates the actions taken by local governments to ensure that cities remain safe places to live and do business despite the effects of climate change. 

More here.

… the think tanks and institutes that deny the reality or severity of climate change, or promote distrust of climate science, do so out of self-interest, ideological conviction or both. Some groups, like the fossil fuel industry, have an obvious self-interest in the continued use of fossil fuels. Others fear that if we accept the reality of climate change, we will be forced to acknowledge the failures of free-market capitalism. Still others worry that if we allow the government to intervene in the marketplace to stop climate change, it will lead to further expansion of government power that will threaten our broader freedoms.

But most Americans do not work for the fossil fuel industry, and most Americans accept that there is an appropriate role for government to protect human and environmental health. So why has the denial of climate change achieved so much traction?

In my travels, I have met many, many people who have told me that they are not in denial about climate change; they simply don’t know enough to decide. It strikes me that these people aren’t unlike my fellow jurors at the start of jury selection. They are trying to keep an open mind, something that we are routinely enjoined to do in many other aspects of daily life.

But just as open-mindedness can be the wrong answer in jurisprudence, it can also be the wrong answer in science and public policy. Since the mid-1990s, there has been clear-cut evidence that the climate is changing because of human activities: burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. For the last decade or so it has been increasingly clear that these changes are accelerating, and worrisome.

Yet many Americans cling to the idea that it is reasonable to maintain an open mind. It isn’t, at least not to scientists who study the matter. They have been saying for some time that the case for the reality and gravity of climate change has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But there’s the rub. The public seems to view scientists as the equivalent of the prosecuting attorney trying to prove a case. The think tanks, institutes and fossil fuel corporations take on the mantle of the defense.

We have to get over that flawed notion. Scientists don’t play the role of prosecutor trying to prove a case. Rather, they are the jury trying to evaluate the evidence. And they have rendered their verdict. The problem is not that scientists have become advocates, as some have claimed. The problem is that there is no judge, no recognized authority giving us instructions we accept, and no recognized authority to accept the scientists’ verdict and declare it final.

A healthy bite of Naomi Oreskes' recent piece in the Los Angeles Times, 'The Verdict is in on Climate Change'. Oreskes is a science historian, professor at the University of California San Diego, and author ('Merchants of Doubt'). If you’re interested, you can check out a couple of her recent presentations here and here

(Graphic credit: NASA

At a macro level, one of the biggest constraints for many developing countries is weak governance and rule of law. Even if you had the right policies in place—and few countries do—there is often little hope that they could be enforced. And, in many countries, there remain fundamental problems associated with the recognition of rights to resources and land tenure that make it almost impossible to imagine successful management of ecosystem services. In developed countries, where there is better governance and rule of law, we still are not making wise trade-offs in our management of ecosystem services. Services with a market value are always given priority over nonmarket services at considerable cost to the public and to human well-being as well as to the environment. Whether through markets or regulations, steps need to be taken to elevate the priority given to these threatened ecosystem services. In addition, we clearly need to address climate change. This is already one of the greatest threats to ecosystems and their services and that threat is growing rapidly.

Above is response given by biologist Walter Reid to the following question:

Given the current state of the world and of ecosystem services, what changes are most critical in order to move toward a sustainable and desirable future for humanity?

(Source: Solutions Journal; Graphic credit: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment via US E.P.A.)

From The BBC:

What might the Rio+20 summit deliver?

We have a little more idea now, following publication of the "zero draft" outcome document for the June summit.

This Rio summit, like the last one 20 years ago, isn’t part of the UN negotiations on climate change or biodiversity or desertification or anything else.

It’s bigger than that. It’s a chance for world leaders to take a long view of where the global society is heading, and whether they’re happy with that.

If they’re not - and there’s a welter of evidence showing that we’re doing a pretty poor job of looking after the liveable bits of Planet Earth, let alone many of its inhabitants - it’s a chance to agree some new principles.

At its most basic, the zero draft is basically a set of ingredients for changing direction onto a new sustainable course.

If environmental decline is a major driver, others are the lack of resilience in the global economy shown up by the current extended financial crisis, and the continuing lack of development in the world’s poorest countries.

So - what might the Rio+20 summit deliver?

The zero draft sets out principles of universal access to the essentials - food, water and energy.

A major goal is “to free humanity from hunger and want through the eradication of all forms of poverty and strive for societies which are just, equitable and inclusive, for economic stability and growth that benefits all”.

In order to provide “proper nutrition” for all, it calls for “sustainable intensification of food production” - expanding the food supply without expanding the amount of land, water and other resources needed.

Another goal is to provide “universal access to a basic minimum level of modern energy services” by 2030.

And to make that sustainable from an environmental perspective, the proportion of energy coming from renewable sources should double by the same date.

One of the routes to achieving these aims would be to phase out “market distorting and environmentally harmful subsidies that impede the transition to sustainable development, including those on fossil fuels, agriculture and fisheries…”

Check out the rest of the article here.

(Photo credit: Adelia Di Buriasco via Rio+20 - UN Conference on Sustainable Development)