I hope you didn't leave 2014 without realizing there have been notable—often underreported—big capital market breakthroughs on climate change, water protection and other sustainability fronts. Stock exchanges requiring company disclosure on sustainability risks or bonds backed by electricity payments from solar rooftop panels may not at first glance seem compelling, but these are the mechanisms that move markets and help build a more sustainable future.
Producing energy at a cost equal to conventional fossil fuel sources is the Holy Grail for wind and solar energy producers, and that day is arriving. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Now as we head into 2015, it’s worth taking a moment to shine a light on key areas of progress.
1. Electric utility business models are changing before our eyes by eschewing new centralized power plants in favor of energy efficiency and decentralized distributed energy, which are less expensive for consumers and more resilient to extreme weather. Case in point: Consolidated Edison’s ambitious $100–$150 million investment in energy efficiency and distributed energy—rooftop solar, battery technologies and smartphone-assisted energy conservation—to avoid building a new $1.1 billion substation.
2. Energy storage is a critical cog in large-scale deployment of renewable energy. That’s why it’s a big deal that Southern California Edison announced contracts last month for more than 260 megawatts of energy storage, five times more than what the state’s utilities commission required. Among the companies selected: Ice Energy, which installs rooftop devices called Ice Bears that freeze water in 450-gallon pots. The devices run at night when temperatures are lower so making ice is easier; during peak hours, the ice is used for space cooling.
3. After many months of warnings, the financial industry is waking up to the oil industry’s potentially wasteful spending on development of new fossil fuel reserves when global oil demand is weakening and carbon-reducing trends are taking stronger hold. In a stunning recent analysis, Goldman Sachs found nearly $1 trillion of oil projects at risk due to shrinking demand and plummeting oil prices. Among the potential “zombie projects”: expensive Arctic oil, deepwater drilling and Canada’s oil sands.
4. Nearly a dozen stock exchanges, including Singapore and Taiwan, are requiring disclosure from listed companies about what they are considering and doing to manage sustainability risks such as climate change and water scarcity. This is a big deal because it’s a basic management dictum that if you’re not disclosing a particular risk, you’ll never be able to manage it. Nearly 7,000 companies already produce annual sustainability reports through GRI, but this can help capture the 70,000 plus companies that don’t yet. NASDAQ, a key partner in a Ceres-led effort to unify investors and global exchanges on this issue, is considering a similar move.
5. San Francisco’s water utility is giving new meaning to “love that dirty water” by allowing building owners and developers to produce and exchange onsite water with each other—a radical departure from traditional monopolistic water utility models. It’s paying up to $500,000 to developers who can produce water onsite—including gray water, rainwater or stormwater—for use by other entities in the city. The utility’s own headquarters is living proof of the benefits of onsite water systems: It uses 60 percent less water than comparable-size buildings with an additional construction cost of less than 1 percent.
6. U.S. farmers are among the most productive in the world, but that productivity comes at a huge cost: Their practices are not sustainable, especially in regard to pollution and water use. That’s why it’s encouraging to see Field to Market, a public/private partnership that includes Unilever, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, announce an ambitious effort to accelerate sustainable growing practices on 20 percent of the nation’s farmland—50 million acres—by 2020. The colossal corn sector—the U.S.’s biggest commodity crop by far—will be a top priority.
7. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s are making big changes in how they scrutinize water systems that borrow money—via bonds—for major water infrastructure projects. If the changes are finalized next year, these critical credit-rating agencies will include climate risks in evaluating water utility bonds. The changes—which Ceres has been advocating since publishing a report on water bond risks several years ago—send an important signal that water systems may get higher credit ratings if they invest in systems more resilient to drought and flooding, and lower ratings if they are especially vulnerable to extreme weather. A higher credit rating can mean lower interest rates, which translates to more affordable consumer water bills.
8. Producing energy at a cost equal to conventional fossil fuel sources is the Holy Grail for wind and solar energy producers, and that day is arriving. Austin Energy signed a deal last spring for 20 years of output from a solar farm at about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is 1 to 2 pennies less than utility-scale coal or natural gas power. Meanwhile, American Electric Power has signed long-term commitments for 2,500 megawatt of wind power, most of it in Texas and other parts of “wind alley” in the Midwest.
9. Bonds are lifeblood for any company that wants to raise capital so it can grow. Solar company execs have talked for years about selling bonds backed by solar electricity contracts, but it’s been hard to pull off. That all changed when solar installer SolarCity got the go-ahead from Standard & Poor’s to issue first-ever bonds backed by electricity payments from its solar rooftop panels. The company has since issued more than $300 million of bonds, including $201.5 million sold in July with interest rates ranging from 4 to 5.45 percent.
These capital market breakthroughs are in line with what Ceres has been working on since launching 25 years ago and will help catalyze sustainability across entire industries and the broader economy.
Looking into 2015, I have some wishes: a U.S. stock exchange adopting a sustainability listing standard; the green bond market eclipsing $100 billion a year; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalizing its carbon-reducing rule for existing U.S. power plants.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Danielle Nierenberg
Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.
Mangroves play a vital role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Mangrove forests are tremendous assets in the fight to stem the climate crisis. They store more carbon than a rainforest of the same size.
- Protecting Mangroves Can Prevent Billions of Dollars in Global ... ›
- Could the 'Mangrove Effect' Save Coasts From Sea Level Rise ... ›
Monday is World Oceans Day, but how can you celebrate our blue planet while social distancing?
- 5 Things to Know About Earth's Warming Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- Bioluminescent Waves Mesmerize California Beachgoers, Surfers ... ›
- NOAA: 2020 Could Be Warmest Year on Record - EcoWatch ›
- On June 8, We Celebrate Our Oceans, Our Future - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Things to Know About the State of Our Oceans for World Oceans Day ›
By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
- As Protests Rage, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice ... ›
- First-Ever Black Birders Week Tackles Racism Outdoors - EcoWatch ›
- 15 EcoWatch Stories on Environmental and Racial Injustice ... ›
- Take a Hike Day Is Around the Bend. What's Your Dream Hike ... ›
By John Letzing
This past Wednesday, when some previously hard-hit countries were able to register daily COVID-19 infections in the single digits, the Navajo Nation – a 71,000 square-kilometer (27,000-square-mile) expanse of the western US – reported 54 new cases of what's referred to locally as "Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19."
The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
World Economic Forum
- Black and Hispanic Americans Suffer Disproportionate Coronavirus ... ›
- Native American Tribes' Pandemic Response Is Hindered by ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
World Environment Day: A Time to Consider the Planet We’ll Return To, and Decide How to Care for It Going Forward
It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.