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Japanese Whalers Range Southern Ocean Unopposed

Sea Shepherd crew, left, confronts Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean during the group's Operation Leviathan 2006-2007. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) Posted for media use

Sea Shepherd crew, left, confronts Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean during the group’s Operation Leviathan 2006-2007. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

BURBANK, California, January 18, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – The Japanese whaling fleet is killing minke whales  in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica right now without opposition for the first time in 12 years.

Citing Japan’s military grade technology and new anti-terrorism laws that make interference with Japan’s whaling fleet in Antarctica a criminal offense, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society  is not pursuing the Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean as it has done every year since 2006.

Japan’s whaling fleet sails at the end of every year to the Southern Ocean to kill whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which has been in place since 1994. That year Japan announced it would increase its catch of whales there, in the name of science, they claim. Over the years thousands of whales have been killed in the sanctuary, despite a worldwide ban on commercial whaling imposed in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Conservationists view Japan’s whaling as illegal because it is conducted under a provision of the IWC rules that allows for research whaling, but Japan takes the meat from the whales they catch and sells it for profit.

Captain Paul Watson, who founded Sea Shepherd in Vancouver, Canada in 1977, has used confrontational tactics to interfere with Japan’s whaling fleet to protect the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

He has purchased ships, painted them black, and sailed them to the Southern Ocean in search of the Japanese whalers. When he found them, Watson’s crews placed Sea Shepherd ships in the paths of the whaling vessels, hurled flares and bottles of rotten butter aboard them, sent representatives to board them carrying a stop whaling message to the captain, even collided with the whalers to knock them off their game.

Watson is proud of the fact that no one has ever been injured or killed in these confrontations, and some 6,000 minke whales, and hundreds of endangered humpback and fin whales have been saved from the Japanese harpoons. But now, faced with stiffened Japanese resistance, Watson is directing his efforts toward saving other marine species instead of whales in the Southern Ocean.

“Japan is now employing military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite and if they know where our ships are at any given moment, they can easily avoid us,” Watson said in August 2017.

During Operation Nemesis in 2016-2017, the Sea Shepherd ships did get close, he said, and their helicopter managed to get evidence of Japan’s illegal whaling operations but the Sea Shepherd could not physically close the gap.

“We cannot compete with their military grade technology,” said Watson.

“This year,” Watson explained, “Japan escalated their resistance with the passing of new anti-terrorism laws, some of which are specifically designed to condemn Sea Shepherd tactics. For the first time ever, they have stated they may send their military to defend their illegal whaling activities.”

“The Japanese whalers not only have all the resources and subsidies their government can provide, they also have the powerful political backing of a major economic super-power,” Watson said.

But the Sea Shepherd’s financial resources are limited and Watson says his ocean protection organization faces hostile governments in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Watson said, “The decision we have had to face is: do we spend our limited resources on another campaign to the Southern Ocean that will have little chance of a successful intervention OR do we regroup with different strategies and tactics?”

He has decided to regroup and come up with a different plan to shut down “the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese whaling fleet,” but Watson vows he will not abandon the whales or the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Sea Shepherd exposed Japan’s activities to the world with the Animal Planet TV show “Whale Wars” and the organization’s own documentation.

Watson says Sea Shepherd helped to push Australia into taking Japan to the International Court of Justice, IJC, where their operations were ruled to be unlawful. Japan was ordered by the ICJ to cease whaling.

Japan did so for a year and then returned with a new program, that Watson says is also illegal. The new program reduced their self-allocated kill quota from 1,035 whales a year, including a yearly quota of 50 endangered Humpbacks and 50 endangered Fin whales, to 333 whales each year.

This means that since 2015, at least 1,400 whales have been spared the lethal harpoons. Now, 702 whales every year will continue to live.

Now, Watson says, it’s time for the Australian government to live up to their promises. Sea Shepherd has been down in the Southern Ocean doing what the Australian government has the responsibility to do but have refused to do, and that is upholding international and Australian conservation law.

Instead of supporting Sea Shepherd the Australian government has been supporting the Japanese whalers by harassing Sea Shepherd and obstructing Sea Shepherd’s ability to raise funds by denying the group’s status as a charitable organization.

Regardless of opposition, Sea Shepherd has grown enormously over the 40 years since it was founded. The organization now has offices in: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Galapagos, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.

“Perhaps more significantly than anything else, there are now voices in the Japanese government opposing the continuation of whaling. Our efforts have been like acupuncture needles stuck into Japanese society, probing and provoking responses. We have exposed the incredible waste of money, the corruption and the shame this dirty business has brought to all the Japanese people,” Watson said.

Watson has had his own legal problems over the years. Pursued by Japan and Costa Rica, he fled to live in exile in France. Click here to see a complete account of these issues and Watson’s recovery from them.

He says Sea Shepherd’s efforts to go after and shut down whalers will continue, not only against Japanese whaling, but also against Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic whaling.

“This is what we have been doing for 40 years,” Watson said, recalling his early intervention against Russian whalers off the California coast in 1975, even before he formed the Sea Shepherd two years later.

He was then one of the founding members of the NGO Greenpeace, which originated in Vancouver, Canada in 1971.

Because Watson pushed a strategy of direct action in conflict with the Greenpeace interpretation of nonviolence, he was ousted from the Greenpeace Board of Directors in 1977. He then left the organization to found the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Watson said, “We will never quit until the abomination of whaling is abolished forever by anyone, anywhere, for any reason.”

Greenpeace, which also went after the Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean until 2008, has instead mounted a campaign focused on changing the Japanese perception of its whaling program at home, although Greenpeace campaigners risked 10 years in jail for exposing corruption in the program.

It was not until after a Greenpeace campaigner’s conviction that the Fisheries Agency of Japan admitted that at least five officials had been involved in illegally taking whale meat as bribes and for profit.

This year, Greenpeace is returning to Antarctica to document what is happening in the newly protected Ross Sea – large-scale factory fishing of Antarctic krill, the basis of the region’s food web, plastic pollution and climate change.

On December 1, 2017, the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area came into force. Created by the Antarctic Ocean Commission, it covers 1.5 million square kilometres, currently the world’s largest protected area. Now, Greenpeace wants a higher level of protection.

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, now is sailing South. For the next three months, the crew will work alongside a team of campaigners, photographers, film-makers, scientists and journalists to build a case for the world’s largest protected area: an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary

This year, Sea Shepherd is taking other direct actions to save threatened marine life, including the critically endangered vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California.

Threats to the 30 remaining vaquita are caused by human greed, says Watson, despite the species’ protected status in Mexico and a designated vaquita refuge created in the upper Gulf.

Fisherman, poachers often working with drug traffickers, are setting illegal gillnets hoping to catch a fish similar in size to the vaquitas, the totoaba. This critically endangered bass is prized for its swim bladder which is sold on the black market in China and Hong Kong for tens of thousands of dollars, earning it the nickname “aquatic cocaine.”

As the vaquita swim in the refuge, they become entangled in the totoaba nets, and, unable to reach the surface, they drown.

As a direct-action organization, Sea Shepherd is working in partnership with the Mexican government on Operation Milagro IV to protect the vaquita refuge. Two Sea Shepherd ships have been stationed in the Gulf of California since fall 2017, working to remove gillnets, patrol for poachers, document and collect data to share with the scientific community, and report all suspicious activity to the Mexican Navy, who will make arrests as needed.

This protective effort has run into armed opposition. On January 2, despite gunshots being fired at its surveillance drone again, Sea Shepherd, together with the Mexican Navy, drove poachers off the protected vaquita refuge and saved the life of an endangered totoaba fish from their illegal nets.

This was the second shoot-out, and the first in daylight, directed at Sea Shepherd in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico, in less than a week. In the first incident, on Christmas Eve 2017, poachers shot down the conservationists’ night vision drone.

“The endangered vaquita would now be extinct if not for our intervention,” says Watson, who takes credit for many other victories for ocean creatures.

“We shut down the entire Southern Ocean pirate toothfish fleet. We have intercepted and stopped poachers off West Africa, in the marine reserves of the Galapagos, Sicily and Panama,” said Watson. “We have removed hundreds of tons of ghost nets and plastics from the sea, and most importantly we have shown the world what a few passionate and courageous people can do.”

“Our objective is to continue to serve and protect all life in the Ocean from illegal and greedy exploitation by destructive humans,” Watson said. “Sea Shepherd is guided by this one reality: If the Ocean dies, we die!”


Featured image: Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson in Antarctica, 2009 (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) Posted for media use.

Stress

Japan Builds ‘Hydrogen Society of the Future’

A Toyota Mirai fuel cell car is ready to take on fuel at an Iwatani hydrogen fueling station. (Photo ©Iwatani Corporation courtesy Government of Japan)

A Toyota Mirai fuel cell car is ready to take on fuel at an Iwatani hydrogen fueling station. (Photo ©Iwatani Corporation courtesy Government of Japan)

By Sunny Lewis

TOKYO, Japan, August 31, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Hydrogen is already fueling cars and stationary power systems in Japan, North America and Europe. Now Japan is envisioning an entire society powered by hydrogen and has opened its wallet to make that happen.

A hydrogen society is a set of communities with sophisticated, integrated, green-energy networks powered by mini-hydrogen plants that create a carbon-free, hydrogen distribution system.

That’s the long-term dream. To make that dream come true, Japan is starting with Tokyo.

With less than three years until the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is pursuing plans to establish a hydrogen society.

Back in the spring of 2016, then Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe declared, “The 1964 Tokyo Olympics left the Shinkansen high-speed train system as its legacy. The upcoming Olympics will leave a hydrogen society as its legacy.”

And the current Tokyo government, headed by Yuriko Koike, is working to make the dream a reality.

Since March 2017 Tokyo has been operating two commercially sold fuel-cell buses on regular routes. Governor Koike says she aims to have 100 fuel cell buses, including vehicles operated by private bus operators, as well as 6,000 fuel cell cars, operating on the city’s roads by 2020.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has created a ¥45.2 billion (US$400 million) fund for hydrogen fuel cell vehicle subsidies and installing hydrogen refueling stations.

One issue is the high cost of the initial investments required. Setting up a standard hydrogen fueling station costs some ¥500 million (US$4.3 million), five times the cost of an ordinary gas station.

But with support from both the national and metropolitan governments, it has become possible to install one of these fueling stations for a net cost of ¥100 million (US$870,000).

Tokyo metropolitan authorities aim to increase the number of hydrogen stations to 35 by 2020. This will make it possible to reach a station within 15 minutes from most places in the metropolis.

Fuel cell vehicles are powered by electricity generated by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, and emit no carbon dioxide, only water vapor.

With Japan relying more on fossil fuels since the shuttering of most of its nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster almost six years ago, the move to a hydrogen society is a push that has only gained urgency.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has become a vocal advocate for hydrogen, to stimulate developments in technology and to help  lower greenhouse gases.

“Hydrogen energy is an ace in the hole for energy security and measures against global warming,” Abe said in a speech to parliament on January 20. “Thanks to deregulation, a hydrogen society of the future is about to begin here in Japan.”

The creation of a hydrogen society aims at achieving four major goals.

First is the reduction of the burden on the environment. Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen fuel cells emit only water vapor.

Second is the diversification of energy sources. Hydrogen can be produced with renewable energy sources, and its use can promote stability in the supply of energy.

Third, it will generate beneficial economic ripple effects. The shift to a new energy source will naturally mean new demand and new jobs.

And fourth, it can help in coping with natural disasters. Fuel cell cars generate electricity to power their motors using hydrogen from their tanks, and when disasters cause power outages, these vehicles can serve as large-scale movable generators. This adds to the appeal of hydrogen for Tokyo, which is highly conscious of the importance of disaster readiness.

Some progress in bringing Japanese companies together to accomplish these goals has already been made.

In May 11 companies agreed to collaborate on large-scale construction of hydrogen fueling stations for hydrogen fuel cell cars across Japan.

Several good looking, high performing hydrogen fuel cell models are on the market now, including four from Japanese and Korean automakers: the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, the Nissan X-Trail and the Toyota Mirai FCV.

Yet in the first half of 2017, fewer than 500 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were sold or leased in Japan and Korea, and only 1,600 were sold or leased globally, according to an August 24 report from Information Trends, a Washington, DC market research and consulting firm.

One important reason that new car buyers pass up hydrogen fuel cell cars is the lack of hydrogen fueling stations.

To make the leap to a hydrogen society will take cooperation and lots of money.

The 11 companies that signed the memorandum of understanding on collaboration toward the large-scale construction of hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles are:

Toyota Motor Corporation

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy

Idemitsu Kosan Co., Ltd.

Iwatani Corporation

Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.

Toho Gas Co., Ltd.

Air Liquide Japan Ltd.

Toyota Tsusho Corporation

Development Bank of Japan Inc.

The agreement is aimed at accelerating the construction of hydrogen stations in the current early stage of FCV commercialization using an “all Japan” approach centered on collaboration among the 11 companies and others than will be brought into a new company the initial 11 plan to create.

The initiative stems from the Japanese government’s “Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells” of March 22, 2016, which aims to achieve a total of 160 operational hydrogen stations and 40,000 in-use fuel cell vehicles by fiscal 2020.

The Iwatani Corporation announced August 10 that it has partnered with two companies, the Toshiba Corporation and the Tohoku Electric Power Co. to construct and operate a large-scale hydrogen energy system in Namie-cho, Fukushima prefecture, based on a 10,000 kW class hydrogen production facility.

The system will use hydrogen to offset grid loads, and deliver hydrogen to locations in Tohoku and beyond, and will seek to demonstrate the advantages of hydrogen as a solution in grid balancing and as a hydrogen gas supply.

That project has won a positive evaluation from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), and its continued support for the transition to the technical demonstration phase. The practical effectiveness of the large scale system will be determined by verification testing in fiscal year 2020.

Moriyuki Fujimoto, Iwatani general manager said, “Iwatani considers that this project will contribute to the early establishment of a hydrogen economy that draws on our experience in the transportation, storage and supply of industrial hydrogen, and the construction and operation of hydrogen stations.”

The Toyota Mobility Foundation (TMF) began soliciting research proposals to spur the development of a hydrogen society,  under the new program this month.

The ¥100 million (US$890,000) program will fund between 10 and 20 projects, giving each project selected up to ¥10 million (US$89,000).

The foundation is looking for projects that demonstrate progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and lowering the cost of using hydrogen by 2030.

A panel of hydrogen and energy experts from universities and public-sector research organizations will review the proposals and oversee their selection based on originality and viability of each proposal.

TMF wants to see innovations in the generation, storage, transportation, and use of hydrogen and will focus on attracting young researchers to participate in the program.

The program will last five years. In the first year, the foundation will solicit proposals from applicants from universities and public-sector institutions in Japan.

In years two through five, researchers from universities and public-sector research institutions worldwide will be eligible for funding.

Hydrogen can be produced using a variety of energy sources, including fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, modification of methanol and methane gas from biomass, and electrolysis of water with wind and solar power.

Tokyo Institute of Technology Professor Takao Kashiwagi says the use of hydrogen is the key to a carbon-neutral world, but only if it is produced using clean technologies.

“The hydrogen that serves as the energy source is currently produced mainly by reforming fossil fuels like natural gas, and this process results in the emission of carbon dioxide,” said Kashiwagi. “But in the future it will become possible to greatly reduce the volume of these emissions by combining the process with technologies such as underground storage of carbon dioxide and the growing of tiny algae to produce biofuel.”

“In the future,” said Kashiwagi, “it will become a zero-emission energy source when produced using solar and other types of renewable energy.”


Feature Image: Hydrogen can supply energy for many uses as illustrated in this Government of Japan infographic.

World Puts First Limits on Mercury Emissions

Stainless steel balls at the Minamata Memorial Museau commemmorate the mercury exposure that killed thousands. (Photo by quirkyjazz)

Stainless steel balls at the Minamata Memorial Museau commemmorate the mercury exposure that killed thousands. (Photo by quirkyjazz)

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, August 17, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – From now on, for the first time, emissions of the neurotoxic element mercury will be controlled by 74 countries List of ratifying countries as a global treaty took effect on Wednesday, protecting millions of children and infants from neurological and health damage.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury commits governments, including the United States, China and most European countries, to specific measures to limit mercury. The treaty bans new mercury mines, phases out existing mines, regulates artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reduces emissions and mercury use in medical devices by 2020.

Exposure to mercury can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system, particularly in unborn children and babies.

There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there any cures for mercury poisoning, which at high levels causes irreversible neurological and health damage.

Since the element is indestructible, the Convention also stipulates conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste.

Up to 8,900 metric tonnes of mercury are emitted every year, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It can be released naturally through the weathering of rocks containing mercury, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but human processes such as generating electricity in coal-burning power plants also emits mercury.

Artisanal small scale mining is responsible for up to 35 percent of global emission of mercury into the environment. Mining alone in 70 different countries exposes up to 15 million workers, including child laborers, to mercury poisoning.

Other human-made sources of mercury pollution include the production of chlorine and some plastics, waste incineration and use of mercury in laboratories, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, paints and jewelry.

UNEP head Erik Solheim said, “The Minamata Convention shows that our global work to protect our planet and its people can continue to bring nations together. We did it for the ozone layer and now we’re doing it for mercury, just as we need to do it for climate change – a cause that the Minamata Convention will also serve.”

“Together, we can clean up our act,” said Solheim.

The Convention takes its name from the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history.

Between 1932 and 1968, the Chisso chemical factory in Minamata, Japan released large quantities of industrial wastewater into Minamata Bay that was contaminated with highly toxic methylmercury.

In 1956, local villagers suffered convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness, coma and death from eating the poisoned fish in Minamata Bay. Thousands of people were certified as having directly suffered from mercury poisoning.

Rimiko Yoshinaga was born in Myojin, Minamata City and grew up in a fishing family. At a memorial ceremony for Minamata disease victims on May 1, 2010, she told how she became ill and how her grandfather died from the disease.

“When this place was a sea,” she said, “we swam and gathered shells and seaweed. Both adults and children loved the sea so much. Meanwhile, fishes in Minamata Gulf started to swim unsteadily and shells opened their mouths, and the area was pervaded by a rancid smell. This was the beginning of a strange disease. In the end, cats, birds and also healthy people suffered a convulsion, groaned with pain, then died.”

“I remember that I went fishing with my grandfather on his fishing boat when I was 4 years old and Emiko, my cousin, had just turned 2 years old. My grandfather set up a little fire and baked the fishes to let us eat. I can imagine that we little girls ate happily thinking these fishes were fresh and tasted so good. No one could tell us they were contaminated fish.”

“The disease started to affect me. I often fell and got up again and again. Gradually I lost my strength and I could not walk at all,” she said.

“My mother carried me on her back to bring me to hospital many times. At the hospital, I got an injection on my back and it was very painful. After that, when I had to go to the hospital, I cried every time so my mother would not know what to do,” she said. “I felt uncomfortable to be called a person with ‘strange disease.'”

Yoshinaga entered elementary school late, because her father worried that she might be bullied by other students. She now works with disabled people.

“The national and prefectural government, not to mention Chisso, did not deal with the damages for so long,” said Yoshinaga. “They did not fulfill their responsibility and it remains tremendous challenge to restore.”

“I want them to listen to each citizen’s opinion so the governments and Chisso can both understand what people really need in this area. Minamata disease happened in such a small town where there are mountains, rivers, and sea where all creatures live,” she said. “Many precious things were taken away.”

There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there cures for mercury poisoning, which at high levels causes irreversible neurological and health damage.

Unborn children and babies are the most vulnerable, along with populations who eat fish contaminated with mercury, those who use mercury at work, and people who live near a source of mercury pollution or in colder climates, where the toxic heavy metal tends to accumulate.

In addition, new research from the University of Geneva reveals that exposure to methylmercury is altering gene expression in algae. Mercury first found at very low amounts in water is concentrated along the entire food chain, from algae via zooplankton to small fish and on to the largest fish – the ones we eat.

By employing molecular biology tools, the scientists measured the way mercury affects the gene expression of algae, even when its concentration in water is very low, comparable to European environmental protection standards.

Working with an algae whose genome has been fully sequenced, they found that mercury disrupted the metabolism of this algae.

Lead researcher Professor Vera Slaveykova points out, “Of the 5,493 genes specifically dysregulated by methylmercury, we don’t yet know the function of 3,569 of them, even though this alga is the most widely studied of all.”

Another new study comparing mercury levels among young women in Asia and the Pacific revealed high traces of mercury in 96 percent of the women tested from Pacific communities with high fish consumption.

The study, “Mercury monitoring in women of childbearing age in the Asia and the Pacific Region,” jointly conducted by the interim secretariat of the Minamata Convention in Geneva, the Biodiversity Research Institute , and the global NGO International Positive Education Network (IPEN).

Researchers examined hair samples from women aged 18-44 from Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Kiribati, and two landlocked Asian countries, Tajikistan and Nepal.

The study found 96 percent of the women sampled from the Pacific Islands contained elevated hair mercury levels.

In contrast to the Pacific Islands, samples from Tajikistan, where fish consumption is very low, had the least amount of mercury overall. In Nepal, elevated mercury levels were found in women with a low fish diet, but who worked making gold-plated religious idols using mercury.

“This study underscores the importance of biomonitoring mercury pollution,” said David Evers, PhD, executive director and chief scientist at BRI and co-author of the study. “Although the subjects in this study represent small selected populations, the information gained contributes to overall global information on mercury concerns.”

“Mercury contamination is ubiquitous in marine and freshwater systems around the world. Biological mercury hotspots are globally common and are related to a variety of human activities,” said Evers. “For these reasons, it is critical that we continue biomonitoring efforts to track potential impacts on local communities and on the environment in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Minamata Convention.”

“Mercury has been recognized as a substance of global concern, with impacts on vulnerable populations,” said Jacob Duer, principal coordinator of the Minamata Convention’s Interim Secretariat. “Our results show why global action to prevent mercury releases through the Minamata Convention is so important.”

Regardless of U.S. ratification of the Minamata Convention in 2013 under President Barack Obama, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reconsidering a Obama-era EPA rule that set the first national limits to protect public health from mercury emissions.

Environmental and health organizations, concerned citizens and industry representatives from across the United States came to Washington, DC, July 31 to speak at an EPA public hearing on its proposal to indefinitely delay the requirements of the 2015 Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines.

The reconsideration is being carried out in response to the coal-fired power industry’s concerns.

In his testimony, Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. countered the utilities’ claims that making these investments would cause harm, comparing the harm to industry profits to the lasting developmental harm that mercury has on children.

Kennedy, an attorney specializing in environmental law, questioned the basis for EPA’s hearing, saying, “This hearing is illegal. I know the Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedure Act backwards and forwards. Nothing in there gives you authority to suspend a rule. There has already been a rulemaking that gave us the limits that EPA is now trying to destroy.”

EPA is expected to finalize its decision on delaying the requirements of the ELG rule later in August.

The Waterkeeper Alliance says it is prepared to challenge EPA in court if the agency continues to roll back protections.

The first meeting of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury will be held September 24 to 29 in Geneva.


Maximpact+WASTEFeatured Image: There is no safe level of exposure to mercury, and young children are most at risk. Japan, 2007 (Photo by Jim Epler)

E-Waste Piles Proliferate in Asia

E-Waste Piles Proliferate in Asia

Creative reuse of Used PCBs, Agbogbloshie , February 28, 2014 (Photo by Fairphone) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

TOKYO, Japan, January 26, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The volume of discarded electronics in East Asia and Southeast Asia rose nearly two-thirds between 2010 and 2015, and e-waste generation is growing fast both in total volume and per person measures, new United Nations research shows.

The study shows that rising e-waste quantities are even outpacing population growth.

Driven by rising incomes and high demand for new devices and appliances, the average increase in e-waste across all 12 countries and areas analyzed was 63 percent in the five years ending in 2015.

The e-waste totaled 12.3 million tonnes, a weight 2.4 times that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

These calculations are drawn from the first-ever Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia compiled by the UN’s think tank, the United Nations University and funded by Japan’s Ministry of Environment.

To conserve resources and avoid serious health and environmental problems, the report urges a crackdown on improper recycling and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment, which includes anything with a battery or a cord.

The countries and other jurisdictions covered by the report are: Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

China alone more than doubled its generation of e-waste between 2010 and 2015 to 6.7 million tonnes, up 107 percent.

For many countries that already lack infrastructure for environmentally sound e-waste management, the increasing volumes are a cause for concern,” says co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University.

Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal,” he warned.

Regionally, the average amount of e-waste generated by each person was about 10 kg in 2015, with the highest generation found in Hong Kong (21.7 kg per person), followed by Singapore (19.95 kg) and Taiwan (19.13 kg).

There were large differences between nations, with Cambodia at 1.10 kg per person, Vietnam, with 1.34 kg, and the Philippines at 1.35 kg per person being the lowest e-waste generators in 2015.

The report cites four main trends responsible for the increasing volumes of electronic waste:

•             More devices: Innovation in technology is driving the introduction of new products, particularly portable electronics, such as tablets, and wearables like smart watches.

•             More consumers: In the East and Southeast Asian region, there are industrializing countries with growing populations, and also rapidly expanding middle classes able to afford more devices.

•             Decreasing usage window: The usage time of devices is getting shorter as rapidly advancing technologies make older products obsolete – for instance flash drives have replaced floppy disks.

Software requirements also play a role in decreased usage time. For instance, there are minimum requirements for computers to run operating software and other applications, and there are “soft factors” such as product fashion, the report states.

As more devices are replaced more rapidly, piles of e-waste grow.

•             Imports: Import of electrical and electronic equipment provides greater availability of products, both new and second-hand, which also increases the e-waste that arises as the devices reach their end of life.

The report warns of improper and illegal e-waste dumping prevalent in most countries in the study, regardless of national e-waste legislation.

Consumers, dismantlers and recyclers are often guilty of illegal dumping, particularly of “open dumping“, where non- functional parts and residues from dismantling and treatment operations are released into the environment, the report points out.

The main reasons for illegal dumping are: lack of awareness, lack of incentives, lack of convenience, the absence of suitable hazardous waste disposal sites, weak governance, and lax enforcement of whatever laws do exist.

The report points to common practices such as open burning, which can cause acute and chronic ill-effects on public health and the environment.

Open burning of e-waste is practiced by informal recyclers when segregating organic and inorganic compounds. For example, they may burn cables to recover the valuable copper.

Though less common, spontaneous combustion can occur at open dumping sites when components such as batteries trigger fires due to short circuits.

Informal recycling, called “backyard recycling,” is a challenge for most developing countries in the region, with a large and growing number of entrepreneurs conducting unlicensed and illegal recycling practices from backyards.

These processes are not only hazardous for the recyclers, their communities and the environment, but they are also inefficient, as they are unable to extract the full value of the processed products, the report points out.

These recyclers recover gold, silver, palladium and copper from printed circuit boards and wires, using solvents such as sulphuric acid for hazardous wet chemical leaching processes, or acid baths, which release toxic fumes.

Open burning and acid bath recycling in the informal sector have serious negative impacts on processers’ occupational health,” co-author Shunichi Honda warns. “In the absence of protective materials such as gloves, glasses, masks, etc., inhalation of and exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances directly affect workers’ health.

Associations have been reported between exposure from improper treatment of e-waste and altered thyroid function, reduced lung function, negative birth outcomes, reduced childhood growth, negative mental health outcomes, impaired cognitive development, cytotoxicity and genotoxicity,” explains Honda.

Indirect exposure to these hazardous substances is also a cause of many health problems, particularly for families of informal recyclers who often live and work in the same location, as well as for communities living in and around the area of informal recycling sites.

The report gives top marks to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. These three jurisdictions have a head-start in the region in establishing e-waste collection and recycling systems. They began to adopt and enforce e-waste specific laws in the late 1990s.

Among the most advanced economies and areas in the region, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are also characterized by high per capita e-waste generation, formal collection and recycling infrastructure and relatively strong enforcement.

Hong Kong and Singapore do not have specific e-waste legislation. Instead, these governments collaborate with producers to manage e-waste through public-private partnerships.

As small jurisdictions with large shipping and trade networks, Hong Kong and Singapore must cope with major transboundary movements of e-waste generated domestically, as well as e-waste in transit from other countries.

China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam all have recent e-waste legislation. These four countries are in a transitionphase, with a mix of formal and informal elements in an evolving ecosystem in terms of collection and recycling infrastructure.

Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand have yet to establish legal frameworks for e-waste management. There is an active informal sector in these countries with an established network for collection and import of end-of-life products and their recycling, repair, refurbishment and parts harvesting.

Asia, including the 12 nations and jurisdictions in this new study, is the world’s largest consumer of electrical and electronic equipment, buying nearly half of all such equipment on the market, amounting to 20.62 million tonnes in 2005; and 26.69 million tonnes in 2012.

The increase is striking given the drop in sales of electrical and electronic equipment in Europe and the Americas in 2012 following the global financial crisis.

e-wasteHongKong

A tracking device inside an old printer led investigators from the Seattle-based nonprofit Basel Action Network to this e-waste scrapyard in rural Hong Kong, June 22, 2016. (Photo by Katie Campbell, KCTS/EarthFix) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Cutting Food Loss and Waste Gets Easier

foodwaste

Food waste exhibit at the National Museum of American History (americanhistory.si.edu), Washington, DC, April 2014 (Photo by Philip Cohen) Creative commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, November 17, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – A new international framework that empowers businesses, governments and NGOs to measure and manage food loss and waste is in its first year of operation. About a third of all food produced each year is lost or wasted worldwide as it moves from field to table, enough food to feed two billion people for a year, even as more than 800 million people are undernourished.

Introduced at the Global Green Growth Forum 2016 Summit (3GF) in Copenhagen in June, the new Food Loss and Waste Standard (FLW) is the first set of global definitions and reporting requirements for companies, countries and others to measure, report on and manage food loss and waste.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that over 40 percent of root crops, fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted, along with 35 percent of fish, 30 percent of cereals and 20 percent of oilseeds, meat, and dairy products. Total food waste represents an economic value of some $1 trillion annually.

Food loss and waste generates about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the United States.

The FLW standard comes as a growing number of governments, companies and civil society groups are making commitments to reduce food loss and waste.

This standard is a real breakthrough,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute based in Washington, DC. “For the first time, armed with the standard, countries and companies will be able to quantify how much food is lost and wasted, where it occurs, and report on it in a highly credible and consistent manner.

There’s simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted,” said Steer. “Now, we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources and ensure more people get the food they need.

The standard is voluntary and designed for users of all types and sizes, across all economic sectors, and in any country.

Peter Bakker, president and CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said the world has to stop destroying food. “Wasting a third of the food we produce is a clear symptom of a global food system in trouble,” he said.

The FLW Standard is pivotal to setting a reliable baseline for streamlined and efficient action on the ground for countries, cities, and small and big businesses along the food value chain,” said Bakker. “Together with tangible business solutions, the FLW Standard can help to significantly reduce food loss and waste around the globe.

The FLW Standard requires an entity to report on four components:

  • Timeframe: the period of time for which the inventory results are being reported
  • Material type: the materials that are included in the inventory – food only, inedible parts only, or both
  • Destination: where FLW goes when removed from the food supply chain
  • Boundary: the food category, lifecycle stage, geography, and organization

 Creating inventories that conform to the FLW Standard can form the foundation for effective strategies that can reduce food loss and waste and monitor progress over time.

The new standard can help governments and companies meet international commitments, including the Paris Agreement on climate change and UN Sustainable Development Goals. SDG Target 12.3 calls for a 50 percent global reduction in food waste by 2030, along with reductions in food loss.

Kristian Jensen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Denmark, said, “Waste makes everybody poorer. I am pleased that a new strong alliance between public and private actors will provide an efficient answer to the global challenge of food loss and waste.

The FLW Standard is expected to help reduce food loss and waste in the private sector. In 2015, The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, adopted a resolution for its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50 percent by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the FLW Standard. Some leading companies, like Nestlé and Tesco, are already measuring and publicly reporting on their food loss and waste.

Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco, a British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer, likes the new standard. “We are pleased to have been the first UK retailer to publish third party-assured food waste data for our own operations and will continue to do so every year. This transparency and hard evidence is a cornerstone of our food waste work.”

Not only has this allowed us to identify where there are food waste hotspots in our own operations, it has also helped us to take action in those areas of food loss and waste,” said Lewis.

Last December, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) , the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the CGIAR program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets launched a new initiative to enhance global cooperation on measuring and reducing food loss and waste. The program was requested by the G20 agriculture ministers.

The Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste is an information-sharing and coordination network involving international organizations, development banks, NGOs, and the private sector.

 Platform partners work together to enhance the measurement of food loss and waste, exchange knowledge and information, and share best practices to tackle the global challenges of food loss and waste.

The G20 Platform will enhance our capacity to accurately measure food loss and waste, both in the G20 countries and in low-income countries,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “It will bring new expertise and knowledge for improving metrics. It will also respond to countries’ need for knowledge and good practices.

In Japan, an estimated 6.42 million tons of food loss and waste is generated every year, about twice the 3.08 million tons of food provided by the United Nations World Food Programme as humanitarian aid in 2014.

To address this, Tatsuya Sekito, the CEO of the Japanese consulting company Glaucks Co., opened Kuradashi.jp, an online shopping website, in February 2015.

Kuradashi.jp sells products supplied by cooperating manufacturers that endorse its objectives. They provide their products at special prices, so most of the products are priced at half the regular price or lower. After free membership registration, anybody can visit the website and make a purchase.

The greater the sales on Kuradashi.jp, the greater will be the reduction in food waste, because these are products that would otherwise be discarded.

In 2020, the Olympics will be held in Tokyo. After the success of the London Olympics on the theme of sustainability, Tokyo will be seeking global attention for its efforts in managing the Tokyo Olympics to create systems for a more sustainable society.

Sekito says, “We can’t miss this opportunity. We want to use the power of business to reduce food waste and make progress toward improvements and solutions for this issue.


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Featured image: Young Georgia girl enjoys a Georgia peach (Photo by Bruce Tuten) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Jury Still Out on Carbon Capture & Storage

SaskPower's Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Saskatchewan

SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Saskatchewan

By Sunny Lewis

LONDON, UK, April 5, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Since the Paris Climate Agreement was reached in December, preventing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from entering the atmosphere has become a top priority for many governments, utilities and private individuals who believe climate change to be the major problem of this generation.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) enables a power station or factory that burns coal, oil or gas to remove the CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere and store it permanently in an old oilfield or a deep saline aquifer formation.

Some attempts at capturing and storing CO2 have been more successful than others.

First, capture technologies allow the separation of CO2 from other gases produced by power generation and factories by one of three methods: pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture and oxyfuel combustion.

The captured CO2 is then transported by pipeline or ship to the storage location. Millions of tonnes of CO2 are now transported for commercial purposes each year by road tankers, ships and pipelines.

Once at its destination, the captured CO2 is stored in geological rock formations typically located several kilometers below the surface.

At every point in the CCS chain, from production to storage, industry can use a number of process technologies that are well understood and have excellent health and safety records, says the London-based Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA).

Alberta Minister of Energy Diana McQueen and Conservative MP Mike Lake tour the Quest Carbon Capture and Storage facility at Shell's Scotford plant near Fort Saskatchewan on April 17, 2014. The project is retrofitting the Scotford bitumen upgrader for carbon capture, designed for up to 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 captured per year, piped 80 kilometers north and injected more than two kilometers below the Earth's surface. (Photo by Chris Schwarz courtesy Government of Alberta) Public Domain

Alberta Minister of Energy Diana McQueen and Conservative MP Mike Lake tour the Quest Carbon Capture and Storage facility at Shell’s Scotford plant near Fort Saskatchewan on April 17, 2014. The project is retrofitting the Scotford bitumen upgrader for carbon capture, designed for up to 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 captured per year, piped 80 kilometers north and injected more than two kilometers below the Earth’s surface. (Photo by Chris Schwarz courtesy Government of Alberta) Public Domain

The Canadian province of Quebec is excited enough about this possibility that it just bet Cdn$15 million on a new enzyme-based technology.

Quebec has established a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 37.5 percent below this same level by 2030.

In its 2016-2017 Budget, released March 17, the Quebec provincial government announced that it has allocated $15 million over the next three years to create a consortium that will promote adoption of CO2 Solutions’ patented enzyme-enabled carbon capture technology.

The process is now ready for commercialization.

In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, the Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Project is SaskPower’s flagship CCS initiative.

This project transformed the aging Unit #3 at Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan into a long-term producer of up to 115 megawatts of base-load electricity, capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to one million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year, the equivalent of taking more than 250,000 cars off Saskatchewan roads annually.

The captured CO2 is sold and transported by pipeline to nearby oil fields in southern Saskatchewan to be used for enhanced oil recovery. CO2 not used for enhanced oil recovery will be stored in the Aquistore Project.

Aquistore is a research and monitoring project to demonstrate that storing liquid CO2 deep underground in a brine and sandstone water formation is a safe, workable solution to reduce greenhouse gases.

Through the development of the world’s first and largest commercial-scale CCS project of its kind, SaskPower hopes to make a viable technical, environmental and economic case for the continued use of coal.

In Norway last December, Aker Solutions signed a contract with the city of Oslo for a five-month test CCS project to capture CO2 emissions from the city-operated waste-to-energy Klemetsrud plant.

The project is funded by Gassnova, the state enterprise that supports the development and demonstration of technologies to capture CO2.

“This is pioneering work with significant potential as the world focuses on finding ways to limit carbon emissions,” commented Valborg Lundegaard, head of Aker Solutions’ engineering business. “This pilot project is of international importance.”

The test will be key to qualifying Aker Solutions’ amine-based CO2 capture technology for commercial application at the world’s waste-to-energy plants. There are about 450 such plants operating in Europe and about 700 globally.

Japan is preparing to test its biggest project yet for capturing and storing CO2 under the ocean floor despite concerns about cost and the safety of pursuing the technology in a region prone to earthquakes.

Starting this month, engineers plan to inject CO2 into deep saline aquifers off the coast of Hokkaido at the northern tip of Japan. The gas will be captured from a refinery operated by Idemitsu Kosan Co. under the government-backed project.

Some Japanese companies are already lending their expertise to and investing in CCS projects overseas.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. designed and built a project in the U.S. state of Alabama with the utility Southern Company.

Three of the six companies building the world’s largest CCS project on Barrow Island off the northwest coast of Western Australia are Japanese. Although a Class A Nature Reserve, Barrow Island is said to be a location where industry and the environment co-exist.

All 51 modules required for the three LNG trains have been delivered to Chevron's Gorgon CCS project on Australia's Barrow Island. (Photo courtesy Chevron)

All 51 modules required for the three LNG trains have been delivered to Chevron’s Gorgon CCS project on Australia’s Barrow Island. (Photo courtesy Chevron)

The Gorgon Project is a liquefied natural gas (LNG) and domestic gas joint venture supplied by the Greater Gorgon Area gas fields.

The Chevron-operated Gorgon Project is a joint venture of the Australian subsidiaries of Chevron (47.3 percent), ExxonMobil (25 percent), Shell (25 percent), Osaka Gas (1.25 percent), Tokyo Gas (1 percent) and Chubu Electric Power (0.417 percent).

On March 20, Chevron announced that its first shipment of LNG from the Gorgon Project had left Barrow Island. The cargo goes to Chubu Electric Power, for delivery into Japan.

“Departure of the first cargo from the Gorgon Project is a key milestone in our commitment to be a reliable LNG provider for customers across the Asia-Pacific region,” said Mike Wirth, executive vice president, Chevron Midstream and Development. “This is also important for our investors as we begin to generate revenue from a project we expect will operate for decades to come.”

But bad news appears to dog the CCS industry.

On Friday, the Gorgon project had to temporarily halt production due to technical difficulties with a propane refrigerant circuit at the Gorgon plant site.

Chevron and its Gorgon partners are facing a repair bill that could amount to “hundreds of millions of dollars” after “a major mechanical problem flared as soon as the maiden LNG cargo was sent,” reported the “West Australian” newspaper on Friday.

There are many skeptics, given that it can cost billions of dollars for a CCS facility and none have a long record of successful operation at an industrial scale. Some investors initially put their money into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies only to see their CCS plans fail or get tossed out by governments.

“It is our view that CCS is unlikely to play a significant role in mitigating emissions from coal-fired power stations,” authors including Ben Caldecott, director of the sustainable finance program at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, wrote in a report published in January.

“Deployment of CCS has already been too slow to match” scenarios presented by the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they warned.

Another concern is whether stored CO2 will leak from storage sites, releasing the gas back into the atmosphere.

“There is no guarantee that carbon dioxide can be stored in a stable way in Japan where there are many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions,” Kimiko Hirata, a researcher for Kiko Network, a Kyoto-based environmental group, told Bloomberg News.

In 2015, the FutureGen Alliance, a U.S. industrial group with a high-profile carbon capture project in Illinois, lost its Department of Energy financing.

FutureGen, a partnership between the U.S. government and an alliance of coal-related corporations, was retrofitting a coal-fired power plant with oxy-combustion generators. The excess CO2 would be piped 30 miles (48 km) to be stored in underground saline formations. Costs were estimated at US$1.65 billion, with $1 billion provided by the U.S. government.

But the U.S. Department of Energy ordered suspension of FutureGen 2.0 in February 2015, citing the alliance’s inability to raise much private funding. At the time of suspension the power plant part of the project had spent $116.5 million and the CCS part had spent $86 million.

In the UK, the British National Audit Office (NAO) has announced plans to investigate then-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s 2015 decision to scrap a £1bn prototype carbon capture scheme that has already cost the taxpayers at least £60 million.

The spending watchdog said that this summer it will examine the expenses incurred in running, and then prematurely halting, a CCS competition for financing.

In the competition, the Department of Energy and Climate shortlisted two projects. Shell was developing a trial scheme at Peterhead in Scotland alongside one of the big six energy suppliers and power station owner SSE. A separate White Rose project was being developed by Drax at its coal-fired plant in Selby, North Yorkshire.

They were awarded multi-million pound contracts to finalize these proposals before a final investment decision could be taken.

But in November 2015 the agency withdrew funding for the program, suspending the competition.

The NAO will review the government decision, what impacts it will have on the department’s objectives of decarbonization and security of supply, and the costs incurred by government in running the competition.

Dr. Luke Warren, chief executive of the CCSA, called the funding cut “devastating.”

“Only six months ago the government’s manifesto committed £1 billion of funding for CCS,” said Warren. “Moving the goalposts just at the time when a four year competition is about to conclude is an appalling way to do business.”

In February, the UK Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee reported on the future of CCS in the country in view of the funding cut.

The government’s decision to pull funding for carbon capture and storage at the last minute will delay the development of the technology in the UK and could make it challenging for the UK to meet its climate change commitments agreed at the Paris COP21 summit, the Energy and Climate Change Committee report warned.

Said Angus MacNeil MP, Energy and Climate Change Committee Chair, “If we don’t invest in the infrastructure needed for carbon capture and storage technology now, it could be much more expensive to meet our climate change targets in the future. Gas-fired power stations pump out less carbon dioxide than ones burning coal, but they are still too polluting.”

“If the government is committed to the climate change pledges made in Paris, it cannot afford to sit back and simply wait and see if CCS will be deployed when it is needed,” said MacNeil. “Getting the infrastructure in place takes time and the government needs to ensure that we can start fitting gas fired power stations with carbon capture and storage technology in the 2020s.”


Featured image Coal Pile courtesy of 123R

Happy Employees Attract SRI Fund Investments

WomanWorkerAssemblyLine

By Sunny Lewis

WARWICK, UK, February 11, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Google employees enjoy free rides to work at the California company’s headquarters campus, plus breakfast, lunch, and even dinner if they stay late – for free. New dads receive six weeks of paid leave, and moms can take 18 weeks. And Googlers can even bring their pets to work.

Employees at the Silicon Valley Internet giant enjoy free oil changes and car washes, massages and yoga, a play room, back-up child care assistance and $12,000 a year in tuition reimbursement.

Other California tech companies, too, top numerous lists of the best places to work. The California-based business software company Intuit offers education support up to $5,000 a year, as long as the employee’s courses are related to financial services. At the office, employees enjoy a state-of-the-art gym, dry cleaning services and on-site therapeutic massages.

Dr. Onur Kemal Tosun of Warwick Business School points to Pride Transport, a Utah-based trucking company. “It uses employee engagement as a competitive advantage to keep good drivers. Not only is their pay competitive, but they find accommodation for them while they are on the road and help their families while the truckers are away,” he says.

Dr. Tosun has just published a study of 1,585 U.S. corporations and 47 socially responsible investment (SRI) funds in which he quantifies how much more investment from socially responsible funds employee satisfaction attracted. He concluded it was 35 percent.

“This increased investment makes sense as firms investing in their employees signal high corporate social responsibility (CSR), which in turn potentially enhances a firm’s reputation and prestige,” said Tosun, an assistant professor of finance in Warwick Business School at University of Warwick.

“Improvements in this area of CSR have been known to boost loyalty, employee contribution, and motivation through which productivity, firm performance and firm value increase. Naturally, this would draw funds’ investment,” he said.

“Increases in society CSR, such as improving housing in a bad neighborhood by a construction company or covering education fees for local children, also sees firms gain a significant growth in investment,” Tosun explained.

“McDonald’s is a good example,” he said, “it has a society focus CSR. Ronald McDonald House Charities provides free ‘home away from home’ accommodation to families while their child is in hospital.”

As it happens, more than 16 percent of the assets under professional management in the United States are in SRI funds. This sector is growing quickly. SRI funds expanded their portfolios about 76 percent over two years – from $3.74 trillion (2012) to $6.57 trillion (2014).

For his study, Tosun created a unique new measure of investment patterns. “I use a comprehensive measure that combines SRI funds’ own CSR perception with corporate CSR scores to explain funds’ investment in these firms,” he explains.

A firm’s CSR score was measured by summing “Strengths” and “Concerns” of each issue area in the “Kinder, Lydenberg, and Domini Index.”

Funds’ CSR sensitivity was evaluated by SRI funds’ investment policy data for positive investment or negative, restricted, investment, available from Bloomberg’s Environmental, Social and Governance Service.

Tosun then combined the CSR score of each company with the CSR sensitivity of each SRI mutual fund investing in that firm.

“My research also shows firms in specific sectors can benefit more from increased CSR efforts, but on the whole CSR investment is a worthwhile endeavor for any firm looking to attract SRI funds,” he says.

But Tosun writes that CSR investments might not improve a fund’s bottom line, although they had higher returns than the market during the crisis period of 2007-2008.

“I show funds having CSR sensitivity underperform the market in general,” he writes, “and fail to improve their portfolio performance after they invest in firms with high CSR.”

The study, “Is Corporate Social Responsibility Sufficient Enough to Explain the Investment by Socially Responsible Funds?” has been submitted for publication to a number of finance journals.

HappyWorkingWomanAward-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.


Main image: Workers on the Scania front axle assembly line (Photo by Scania Group) creative commons license via flickr.
Bottom image: This happy woman works at TimeWarner in the Media Sales division. (Photo by Dylan H.) creative commons license via flickr.

TPP Unites Old Enemies, Makes New Ones

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Maori (Indigenous New Zealander’s) demonstrate against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Auckland, February 4, 2016

 

 

 

 

By Sunny Lewis

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, February 9, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – “We expect this historic agreement to promote economic growth, support higher-paying jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and to promote transparency, good governance, and strong labor and environmental protections,” declared the ministers of the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries on February 4 as they signed the document that for the first time opens trade across the region.

The TPP eliminates 98 percent of all tariffs among the 12 countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.

The agreement includes former enemies at war as well as overwhelmingly Catholic countries such as Peru and Chile, the Buddhist-Shinto country of Japan, and majority Muslim nations such as Brunei and Malaysia.

But many civil society groups oppose the agreement for a host of reasons. They warn it will undermine environmental protections, human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights and internet freedom, despite official assurances to the contrary.

After more than five years of negotiations, ministers finalized the text at a session in Atlanta, Georgia on October 5, 2015 and agreed to sign it within 90 days. That signing event took place in Auckland on February 4, 2016.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the agreement “will be overwhelmingly positive for New Zealand in supporting more trade and investment, jobs and incomes.”

“TPP will provide much better access for goods and services to more than 800 million people across the TPP countries, which make up 36 percent of global GDP,” said Key. “TPP is our biggest-ever free trade deal and is estimated to boost our economy by at least $2.7 billion a year by 2030.”

“It is New Zealand’s first Free Trade Agreement relationship with five of the TPP countries, including the largest and third-largest economies in the world – the United States and Japan. Successive New Zealand governments have been working to achieve this for 25 years, the prime minister said.

Prime Minister Key views the TPP as not only good for New Zealand, but also for the entire Asia Pacific region.

“Other countries have already signalled an interest in joining TPP and this could lead to even greater regional economic integration. A more prosperous and therefore secure region, is in all of our interests,” Key said.

The next step is for member countries to ratify the TPP so it can take effect.

The agreement can take effect only with the approval of at least six countries, which account for at least 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of all member nations.

This means that it must be adopted by the legislatures of the two largest TPP economies, the United States and Japan.

Just 71 years ago, the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Japanese cities, as the two nations were bitter enemies locked in a struggle for control of the Pacific during World War II.

But now Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the Trans-Pacific Partnership will allow Japan and the United States together to write the rules for the global economy.

Speaking at an economic forum in Tokyo in October, the day after the long-secret text of the TPP was made public, Abe said, “Rules should not be something that are imposed on you – you make them. The TPP is the structure where Japan and the U.S. can lead in economic rule-making.”

TPPprotestVirginia

The TPP protest movement has been building for years. Here, American workers demonstrate against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Leesburg, Virginia, September 9, 2012. CWA stands for Communications Workers of America.

 

 

U.S. President Barack Obama said after the document was signed on February 4, “TPP allows America – and not countries like China – to write the rules of the road in the 21st century, which is especially important in a region as dynamic as the Asia-Pacific.”

“It eliminates more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on Made in America products,” said Obama. “It promotes a free and open Internet and prevents unfair laws that restrict the free flow of data and information.”

“It includes the strongest labor standards and environmental commitments in history – and, unlike in past agreements, these standards are fully enforceable.”

Fifty years ago, the United States and Vietnam were engaged in a fierce war, and U.S. demonstrations against involvement in the Vietnam war sharply divided the country.

Today, both countries are signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Authorized by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang took part in the signing ceremony in Auckland.

The World Bank’s latest “Taking Stock” report features a special section on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, in which it projects that the TPP is expected to generate considerable benefits for Vietnam, despite “implementation challenges.”

“The recently concluded TPP will not only improve market access, but will also serve as a critical anchor for the next phase of structural reforms in Vietnam.” says Sandeep Mahajan, lead economist for the World Bank Vietnam.

As the TPP economy with the lowest per capita GDP, Vietnam has unique comparative advantages, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing. Simulations suggest that the TPP could add as much as eight percent to Vietnam’s GDP, 17 percent to its real exports, and 12 percent to its capital stock over the next 20 years.

An agreement that opens trade, forges bonds between old enemies, and brings together 800 million people of many different faiths and languages – what could go wrong?

Plenty, according to protesters in some of the TPP countries.

Environmentalists object to language such as this. “3. The Parties further recognize that it is inappropriate to establish or use their environmental laws or other measures in a manner which would constitute a disguised restriction on trade or investment between the Parties.”

A movement of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith and other organizations has escalated its campaign to defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership with a joint 1,525-group letter urging the U.S. Congress to oppose the trade agreement.

“As you would expect from a deal negotiated behind closed doors with hundreds of corporate advisors, while the public and the press were shut out, the TPP would reward a handful of well-connected elites at the expense of our economy, environment and public health,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, which organized the letter.

The TPP would roll back environmental enforcement provisions found in all U.S. trade agreements since the George W. Bush administration, requiring enforcement of only one out of the seven environmental treaties covered by Bush-era trade agreements, Stamoulis charged in a letter to supporters emailed last week.

“Beyond just failing to mention the term “climate change” in its thousands of pages, the TPP would also provide corporations with new tools for attacking environmental and consumer protections, while simultaneously increasing the export of climate-disrupting fossil fuels,” Stamoulis wrote.

The U.S.-based global climate campaign 350.org called the TPP “a toxic deal that would give dangerous new powers to the fossil fuel industry and pose a serious harm to the climate.”

“The TPP is a fossil fuel industry handout,” said Payal Parekh, 350.org Global Managing Director. “This partnership in pollution gives corporations the right to challenge any local government or community that tries to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

“The deal signed in New Zealand today makes a mockery of the climate agreement decided in Paris last December. If countries are serious about addressing the climate crisis, they need to stand up to coal, oil and gas companies, not reward them with new rights and privileges,” Parekh warned.

350.org is one of many organizations around the world that will be mobilizing members to fight back against the TPP and block its final approval and implementation.

Corporate Accountability International, based in Boston, states, “We oppose the TPP because it prioritizes corporate interests over public health, the environment, human rights, and democracy.”

In Kuala Lumpur in January, some 5,000 Malaysians protested the TPP on Saturday, days before parliament was due to open a debate on the pact.

Many of the demonstrators were from the opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS). They voiced fears that their country could lose control of its economy if it enters the partnership with the United States.

The Canadian nonprofit OpenMedia calls the TPP a “reckless Internet censorship deal.”

“We are planning to grow a global coalition and build an international action platform to turn public opinion against the TPP, country by country. We will jam public consultations, build an international action kit, and support our allies across the globe to kill this agreement once and for all.”

“The TPP won’t come into force until it gets ratified,” says OpenMedia. “That means the final and most crucial phase of the battle begins today.”


 

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image:  U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman (right) attend the Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministerial Meeting in Sydney, October 25, 2014. Both men signed the TPP pact February 4, 2016. (Photo by TPP Media Australia) under creative commons license via Flickr
Main image : Maori demonstrators against TPP (Photo by Dominic Hartnett) under creative commons license via Flickr
Image 01: American workers demonstrate against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Leesburg, Virginia, September 9, 2012. CWA stands for Communications Workers of America. (Photo by GlobalTradeWatch) under creative commons license via Flickr

Climate Polluters Collaborate on Nuclear Fusion

ITERComplete

by Sunny Lewis,

PARIS, France, December 17, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – The breakthrough Paris Climate Agreement approved December 12 commits all countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophic climate change.

Now, the world is focused on finding clean sources of energy to replace the coal, oil and gas that, when burned to generate electricity, emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

All the countries that top the greenhouse gas emissions list are among those cooperating on a long-term energy project that some say is also a long shot – nuclear fusion.

The opposite of the nuclear fission that splits atoms to power all current nuclear generating stations, fusion is the process that powers the Sun and the stars.

When light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. Fusion research is aimed at developing a safe, abundant and environmentally responsible energy source.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, which in Latin means the way, is one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world today. Like the Paris Climate Agreement, ITER is also a first-of-a-kind global collaboration.

In Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, in the south of France, 35 nations are collaborating to build the world’s largest Tokamak. This magnetic fusion device is designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy.

ITERconstruction

Thousands of engineers and scientists have contributed to the design of ITER since the idea for an international joint experiment in fusion was first launched in 1985.

The seven ITER Members – China, the European Union (plus Switzerland, as a member of EURATOM), India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States – are now engaged in a 35-year collaboration to build and operate the ITER experimental device, and together bring fusion to the point where a demonstration fusion reactor can be designed.

ITER is financed by the seven Members. Ninety percent of contributions will be delivered “in-kind.” That means that in the place of cash, the Members will deliver components and buildings directly to the ITER Organization.

The ITER Organization estimates the cost of ITER construction for the seven Members at roughly €13 billion, if all the manufacturing were done in Europe.

But each Member State is producing its contributions in its own country. “As production costs vary from Member to Member, it is impossible to furnish a more precise estimation,” says the ITER Organization.

Europe is contributing almost half of the costs of ITER construction, while the other six Members are contributing equally to fund the rest.

Organizers say the ITER project is “progressing well despite delays.”

On Monday, scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics said they have reached a milestone in the quest to derive energy from nuclear fusion.

They started up one of the world’s largest nuclear fusion machines for the first time and briefly generated a super-heated helium plasma inside a vessel, a key point in the experimental process.

The 16-meter-wide machine is the Wendelstein 7-X, a type of nuclear fusion device called a stellarator. Scientists have been talking about the enormous potential of stellarators for decades, but this is the first time a team has shown that it can produce and control plasma.

The first plasma in the machine lasted one-tenth of a second and reached a temperature of around one million kelvins. “We’re very satisfied,” said Hans-Stephan Bosch, whose division is responsible for the operation of the Wendelstein 7-X. “Everything went according to plan.”

At its 17th Meeting, held on November 18-19, the ITER Council reviewed the progress made by the ITER Organization Central Team and the Members’ Domestic Agencies from the ITER design and early construction phase to the current phase of full construction.

The Council recognized the “tangible progress” made during the past eight months on construction and component manufacturing.

Onsite, in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, the European Domestic Agency has completed the framing of the Assembly Hall and the platform for the first level of the Tokamak. There has also been progress on magnets, the neutral beam injector, remote handling, and other ITER components.

India has completed the fabrication, pre-assembly, and shipment of the initial components of the ITER cryostat, for assembly in the already completed cryostat building onsite, as well as the first cooling water piping for ITER’s chilled water and heat rejection systems.

Four 400kV transformers procured from the United States have been shipped and installed onsite, and the U.S.-procured drain tanks for the cooling water and neutral beam systems have arrived onsite.

China has completed the manufacturing and testing of the first batch of pulsed power electrical network equipment. China also has reached qualification milestones in the manufacturing of magnet feeders, correction coils, and the blanket first wall.

Japan has started the series production of the toroidal field coils. Full-tungsten prototypes of plasma-facing components for the ITER divertor have been manufactured and shipped, and required performance for ITER has been demonstrated.

Russia has fully met its obligations for delivery of superconductor cable for ITER magnets. At Russia’s Divertor Test facility, high heat flux testing is also underway for divertor plasma-facing components from Japan, Europe, and Russia. Beryllium fabrication has begun, and the gyrotron complex prototype facility has passed its acceptance tests.

In Korea, manufacturing is ongoing for the ITER vacuum vessel and thermal shield, and design milestones have been achieved for many of the purpose-built tools ITER will need for assembly.

The Council noted the completion of superconductor production, which has been a coordinated effort involving laboratories and companies of ITER Members in 12 countries.

This complex process involves the multinational harmonization of design attributes, production standards, quality assurance measures, and testing protocols.

The Council recognized “the substantial benefit this will create for all ITER Members, positively impacting the capacity for cross-border trade and innovation, not only in energy industries but also in fields such as medical imaging and transportation applications.”

If ITER is successfully completed, it will be able to claim many firsts. ITER will be the first fusion device to produce net energy. ITER will be the first fusion device to maintain fusion for long periods of time.

And ITER will be the first fusion device to test the integrated technologies, materials, and physics regimes necessary for the commercial production of fusion-based electricity.

MaxPlancktechniciann


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: Visualization of the completed ITER Tokamak courtesy of Jamison Daniel, Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, Oak Ridge National Lab, United States
Image 01: Construction is underway at the 42-hectare ITER site in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, in southern France, where building began in 2010.
Image 02: A technician at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics works inside the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator.