Author Jonathan Franzen Says Saving Birds Trumps Climate Change

By: Carol Pierson-Holding

 

The California drought caused hydropower production to plummet by 46 percent. The silver lining?  Solar power increased, making up for 83 percent of the hydropower decline.

 

Dead Bird-Climate

I’m a huge supporter of solar energy, which appears to be an inexhaustible and “free” source of energy. But an article in this week’s New Yorker by National Book Award winner Jonathan Franzen points out that solar panels, when not installed in rooftops but laid out in “horizon-reaching solar farms,” can be just as bad, as can all forms of renewable energy. In Franzen’s words:  “We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming.”

 

Franzen dissing renewable energy? He is a thought-leader in environmentalism. His 2010 novel Freedom features environmentalist Walter Berglund as protagonist, fighting the immoral forces behind strip mining. In 2011, Franzen was included in The Guardian’s top 20 Green Giants for setting the global environmental agenda. He is also a birder and Audubon Society fan. So it’s disturbing that he spends seven pages of beautifully written prose trying to convince us that we can’t do a thing about climate change and shouldn’t ruin our comfortable lives trying.

 

Franzen’s article bemoans the Audubon Society’s web site and its new focus on climate change, “the greatest threat” to American birds. Franzen references a writer at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jim Williams, who blogged that fighting a local stadium project whose glass walls would kill thousands of birds is insignificant in the context of climate change, which could wipe out nearly half of North American bird species by 2080. Franzen’s counter is chilling: “…can we settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe? One advantage of the latter approach is that, if a miracle cure like fusion energy should come along, there might still be some intact ecosystems for it to save.”

 

In other words, save the birds and forget taking action to mitigate climate change because “… it makes no difference to the climate whether any individual, myself included, drives to work or rides a bike. …if I calculate the average annual quota required to limit global warming to two degrees, I find that simply maintaining a typical American single-family home exceeds it in two weeks.”

 

Instead, Franzen advocates for conservation projects in Peru’s Manu National Park and Coast Rica’s Guanacaste, smaller, local efforts conducted by natives who safeguard biodiversity, while failing to note that the preservation of forests — and in the case of Costa Rica, tree planting as well — also serves to combat climate change and is, in fact, what some believe is the most practical place to start.

 

I hope there aren’t a lot of smart, talented people like Franzen who think like he does. Especially in California, where Governor Jerry Brown is asking for citizens to combat the drought by voluntarily cut their water consumption by 25%. He’s not asking farmers yet, but counting on citizens to pitch in first. Of course we’ll need a monumental breakthrough on the scale of Franzen’s “cold-fusion” to save ourselves from extinction, but if (or when) that happens, we’ll all have to be living dramatically altered lives with less water and a smaller carbon footprint.

 

Whether we’re tree-planting conservationists like those Franzen visited in Costa Rica or climate change activists riding bikes to work, we’re all engaged in activism for both at the same time. Our whole way of living has to change, to both honor species and at the same time, reduce our energy consumption. So Mr. Franzen, put your considerable talent to work again and this time, persuade your readers to think of both species conservation and climate change with every action. Changing human behavior has worked in the past and can work now. As for Mr. Franzen? Who’s to say he won’t love riding his bike to work. He’ll certainly be fitter. And possibly happier too.

 

Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer via Flickr CC

 


 

Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

 

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Who Gets Hurt From Fed’s Weak Fracking Rules?

By: Carol Pierson Holding

 

Regulation can be a great reason to behave well, though industry rarely sees it that way.

 

Fire2

After five years of planning, 1.5 million comments, intense lobbying from the oil and gas industry, and innumerable photos of tap faucets on fire, the Bureau of Land Management has finally announced new regulations for fracking.

 

The promise of the rules is robust: we can continue to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, transition from coal to a cleaner burning fuel, and persist in drastically reducing our dependence on imported energy — while, thanks to the new rules, eliminating ground and water contamination from fracking. Industry is forced to behave well and thereby forestalls its most serious opposition.

 

The rules only cover Federal and tribal lands, representing just 11 percent of the natural gas the U.S. consumes, with the hope that operators on state and private lands will follow suit. But still, whatever the regulations do cover should be a satisfying start, shouldn’t it?

 

In fact, the rules satisfy no-one. News reports from both sides of the issue claim the regulations are deeply flawed. As reported in Huffington Post, environmental groups call it “toothless,” faulting the exceptions loophole and inspections that are delayed until 30 days after fracking wells are in place. A Harvard Law School study found that the reporting mechanism stipulated by the regulation called “FracFocus,” a chemicals tracking registry used voluntarily by Exxon Mobil and other drillers, fails as a fracking disclosure tool.

 

On the other side, the Wall Street Journal reports that that the industry was so outraged that it “filed a lawsuit to block the rules just minutes after they were announced.”

 

That lawsuit can’t be due to the expense of conforming to the new rules, but that’s their excuse. The government estimates the cost of the new safety procedures at $11,400, or less than 1 percent of the cost of drilling a well. Even so, Barry Russell who runs the Independent Petroleum Association, one of the groups suing over the new regulations, insists in the Journal that “At a time when the oil and natural-gas industry faces incredible cost uncertainties, these so-called baseline standards will threaten America’s economic upturn, while further deterring energy development on federal lands.”

 

It makes more sense that this most powerful industry would resist anyone telling them what to do.

 

So who is suffering most from the new fracking rules, environmentalists and the citizens they represent, or the oil and gas industry?

 

Should be an easy call. Fracking has been linked to dire health problems, smog, and water, landscape and wildlife devastation. Federal half-measures must be painful for everyone who lives within contamination range of a fracking operation.

 

But for the oil and gas industry, weak fracking regulations might end up being  detrimental too. Consider this: many localities are issuing fracking moratoriums and bans, from cities and counties across Texas, Ohio, California, and New Mexico to New York State, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. Nation-wide fracking bans are in place in countries including France, Germany and most recently Scotland.

 

Even with a U.S. ban on fracking only a distant possibility, couldn’t strong US regulations eventually prove fracking’s workability as a bridge to a greener future, ensuring it is protected from a ban?

 

That’s exactly what the sustainability community hoped would happen with new regulation. Many want to support natural gas to reduce atmospheric carbon, but they don’t like the risk associated with ground water contamination. Socially responsible investment managers such as Green Century and Sentinel are demanding companies that frack commit to insuring environmental safety and best practices. Tougher regulations could have gone much further in meeting these investor demands.

 

Likewise, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sites that guide consumer and institutional behavior such as data aggregator CSRHub (sponsor of this blog) highlight “fracking” as a special issue tag, to identify the sixty one companies involved in fracking.

 

Weaker rules allow oil and gas companies that frack (and that’s 90 percent of new wells) to continue to contaminate public water and land, while stronger rules could have forced them to behave as good corporate citizens.  Fracking has allowed natural gas companies to become heroes in one sense, offering a cleaner-burning alternative to coal. Loose regulations imply a license to pollute. And that’s got to hurt everyone.

 

Photo courtesy of Steven Jurvetson via Flickr CC

 


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 13,736+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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Big Oil Talks the Talk Then Pulls an End-Run on Carbon Pricing

By: Carol Pierson-Holding

 

Carpool lane

The Seattle Times ran an article whose headline was so unsurprising I almost didn’t read on: “Oil industry not buying Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade plan.” No surprise right?

 

Big Oil’s actions tell us it not only wants to kill carbon pricing but still actively promotes climate-denial, a fact most recently reinforced by the cash-for-climate-denial scandal of Harvard-Smithsonian physicist Wei-Hock Soon, whose papers are the go-to reference for impugning climate change. Big Oil withdrew from direct supporting Soon and now funnels “donations” through Donors Trust charity, which in turn donates to climate denial organizations.

 

And hadn’t I just been sent a link to Biggreenradicals.com, a site funded by the DC-based Environmental Policy Alliance (which goes by the ultra-cynical acronym “EPA”)? Its stated function is to “educate the public about the real agenda of well-funded environmental activist groups” and its investigations point to the Kremlin as a major funder of the US EPA.

 

Russia funds the EPA to destabilize the U.S.? Really? Still, whatever “EPA” is spending on its whacky research is a pittance compared to $213 million the fossil fuel industry spent last year on lobbying and the $900 million a year given to organizational supporters of climate denial.

 

That Seattle Times headline seemed to be restating the obvious, that oil companies will always oppose carbon pricing. But the text of the article presents a totally different picture: “…(chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell) Ben van Beurden warned that the industry faces a credibility problem ‘if you undermine calls for an effective carbon price; and if you always descend into the ‘jobs versus environment’ argument in the public debate’.”

 

Shell is not the only oil giant to endorse carbon pricing — BP also says it favors a global carbon price, and that national or regional carbon policies are “a good first step.” The industry knows its coming. 73 countries including China and Russia have or are creating a form of carbon pricing, either carbon tax or cap and trade. A successful cap and trade system has been operating since 2008 across nine states in the northeastern U.S.

 

But here in Washington State, where the legislature is currently debating cap and trade legislation, the oil industry is opposing carbon pricing with everything its got.

 

It’s a brilliant play:

Big Oil CEOs say they support carbon pricing.

Washington’s governor proposes legislation would set a price on carbon emissions.

Big Oil refuses to negotiate.

 

The oil and gas sector has spent $415,000 in donations directly to legislative candidates. Couldn’t they have stalemated without the expensive price tag?

 

Sure, but they’ve got something else up their sleeve:

 

Last week, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a new $15-billion transportation plan that includes increases in the gas tax (nearly 12 cents phased in over three years) to pay for road infrastructure.

 

…But the Senate bill also contains a so-called ‘poison pill’ that cuts transit funding if the governor imposes stricter emission standards on fuels, vehicles or fuel distributors, or limits carbon emissions. That would be true for the life of the plan, or about 16 years.

 

How diabolically clever. Going flat out against any limit on emissions, much less cap and trade, would backfire in a pro-environment state like Washington, where 71% of the population supports the measure. With its Republican friends in the Senate, Big Oil devised a run-around that improves the odds that cap and trade will not become law and holds public transit ransom if anyone objects.

 

Improving Washington State’s roads could alleviate the terrible traffic jams in Western Washington’s cities. But they’d also make Washington State’s major polluters, private passenger cars, more attractive, and thereby assure that the switch from fossil fuels to renewables is extended. Carbon pricing seems inevitable, even to Big Oil, yet they’re using every trick to delay it, spending a bundle in this relatively tiny market to do so.

 

Thankfully, we’ve got a governor willing to throw his political clout behind it, and the support of environmentalists, labor unions, health organizations, low-income groups and native tribes. And shouldn’t that be enough?

 

Photo courtesy of Keith Tyler via Flickr CC


 

Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 13,736+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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Review of Sustainability Reporting Status of RepRisk’s Most Controversial Companies

By Bahar Gidwani

 

For the past five years, RepRisk has produced a list of ten companies that were most exposed to environmental, social, and governance issues.  We thought it would be interesting to see how the companies on this year’s Most Controversial list perform in CSRHub’s sustainability metrics tracking system.

 

RepRisk is a business intelligence provider that specializes in environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk analytics and metrics. It uses a unique methodology that screens tens of thousands of public and third-party sources in 14 languages in order to identify, filter, analyze and quantify environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks for both listed and unlisted companies from all sectors and countries in the world.

 

Only three of the companies on this year’s Most Controversial list had ratings information in CSRHub’s system (from sources other than RepRisk).  This is a pretty remarkable result—CSRHub uses 371 sources to build its data set.  It lists 13,736 companies from 127 countries on its web site and has data on another 140,000 companies.  CSRHub recently conducted a study on the companies in 14 regional stock exchanges.  Of the 18,991 companies listed on these exchanges, CSRHub had data on 13,165 or 69%.

 

Most Controversial list-csrhub ratings2

 

 

Only two of the companies in the RepRisk list had enough data to get full CSRHub ratings. The top-level overview below shows that Takata has poor scores relative both to our entire coverage universe and to their industry and geographic peers while General Motors scores well.
Ranking Chart

 

We can’t draw conclusions from a sample of two companies—or ten.  The high score for General Motors is a product of many years of investment in its community and employees and well-designed programs for environmental management and governance.  The reputational challenges it faced came despite these investments and some were related to the company’s recent financial problems.

 

But, it is clear there is little information on the social performance of eight of the ten companies on this list.  These eight companies are not reporting sustainability metrics to outside groups and do not seem to be engaged with or responding to their stakeholders.  We believe this simple study supports our belief that companies who are transparent about their social policies and performance are less likely to have risky patterns of behavior.

 

 


 

Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani  has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 13,736+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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Benchmark Your Sustainability Performance on New Enablon Wizness Publisher

CSRHub and Wizness Publisher

 

Today, we are announcing the release of the new CSRHub Benchmarking Template, available on the Enablon Wizness Publisher platform. Building on CSRHub’s partnership with Enablon, our teams have joined forces to imagine this new online tool which will enable you to:

 

  • Assess your own performance: Evaluate your Sustainability Performance using the CSRHub ratings methodology, covering the four categories of environment, employee, community and governance.
  • Benchmark your performance with your peers: Evaluate the Sustainability strategy of your competitors, identify the leaders and laggards of your industry and compare your ratings to theirs.
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses: By comparing your own CSRHub ratings to industry peers of your choice, the benchmark helps you identify the Sustainability areas in which you excel, or need improvement.

 

Excited about discovering how well you perform? Start your own benchmark now!

 

Start My Benchmark

 

Wondering how it works? Enter your company name and up to 4 of your competitors and the Publisher will use the CSRHub data to generate an online and interactive benchmarking report like this one:

 

Benchmarking CSR_Wizness and CSRHub

 

 

If you have any questions about this new exciting tool, you can take a look at the FAQ or at the template tutorial when you click Start My Benchmark above. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, we’d love to hear from you!

 

 

About Wizness

Wizness is an online platform which enables companies to collect their Sustainability data, create their online Sustainability profile, design & publish interactive, mobile ready CSR reports, and engage in interactive conversations with their stakeholders. Through its services, Wizness enables organizations to reduce their reputational risks and communication costs as well as reinforce their brands.

 

Wizness is powered by Enablon, the world’s leading software provider of Sustainability, EH&S and Risk Management solutions.

 

For more info about Wizness, please visit https://publisher.wizness.com/

For more info about Enablon, please visit http://enablon.com/

 

About CSRHub 

CSRHub provides access to the world’s largest corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information, covering on 13,700+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 370+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices, and seek ways to change the world.

 

CSRHub is a B Corporation, an Organizational Stakeholder (OS) with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a silver partner with Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and an Advisory Council Member of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

 

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