Corporate Leaders to Trump: Withdrawing From the Paris Agreement Makes Bad Business Sense
By Courtney Lindwall
President Trump says fulfilling the country's commitment to the Paris climate agreement would be bad news for the U.S. economy, but the growing tally of business leaders pledging to take action anyway suggests otherwise. These businesspeople understand that while climate action costs money, climate change costs far more.
More than 2,200 businesses and investors have signed on to the "We Are Still In" pledge — even as Trump moves ever-closer to official U.S. withdrawal. The group standing behind the 2015 climate deal represents a whopping 70 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), and thousands more have joined other corporate climate and sustainability programs, such as the We Mean Business coalition and the Science-Based Targets Initiatives.
And while many corporations are still contending with their own outsize roles in creating the climate crisis (along with other environmental and social woes), many are already on their way to implementing the changes necessary to meet their carbon emissions targets.
Tech superpower Apple, for instance, is now running all of its facilities in 43 countries on 100 percent clean energy — in some cases sending surplus energy from its solar farms back to the local grid. Apple is also securing commitments from its suppliers to switch to renewables. Over in the fashion industry, sneaker giant Nike has committed to diverting 99 percent of its footwear manufacturing waste from landfills, making certain products with recycled plastic bottles, and reducing carbon emissions across its global supply chain by 30 percent by 2030.
Such commitments multiply daily, even as the Trump administration's rollbacks of the most important federal climate policies continue try to steer America in a different direction: backwards. Here are just a few of the reasons companies are opting to move forward instead.
Trump often says that the Paris Agreement "punishes" the U.S., particularly its businesses, but he outright ignores the far more destructive economic force of climate change. According to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a business-as-usual high-emissions scenario (like the one Trump touts) could result in a 7.2 percent drop in GDP per capita worldwide by the end of the century. Disruptions to global supply chains are already upon us, and as carbon pollution continues to collect in our atmosphere, more will come. Experts predict far-reaching impacts to the infrastructure that supports nearly all businesses, such as extreme weather affecting the transportation of raw goods and rising sea levels swamping the fiber-optic cables essential to the internet.
Of course, climate change will also jeopardize specific industries, such as winter sports (see: decreases in snowfall), and products, like your morning cup of coffee. In fact, it's little wonder that Starbucks has also signed on to We Are Still In. Climate change may bring increasingly irregular growing seasons (and skyrocketing prices) for coffee beans on top of increased sick days for field workers exposed to extreme heat. Such concerns would apply to almost any business dependent on either agriculture or a global workforce, or both. According to a 2011 National Academy of Sciences report, for every additional degree Celsius that the planet warms, we can expect a 5 to 15 percent reduction in total crop yield.
While many corporations have spewed more than their fair share of carbon pollution, several are now taking the opportunity to have a supersize impact on emissions reductions. Look at the world's two biggest retailers: Amazon and Walmart. Amazon says it will go carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris goals, and recently made moves to start transitioning its fleet of delivery trucks to electric vehicles. Soon after Trump took office, Walmart announced its Project Gigaton initiative, which set the ambitious goal of lowering the company's global carbon emissions — by pressing for action on the part of its suppliers — by one billion metric tons before 2030. Walmart has since reported that it's on track to meet its goal, which is no small feat: the entire U.S. emitted 6.5 billion metric tons of carbon in 2017.
Climate action is no longer seen as the enemy of economic progress. While the clean energy industry has known this for a while, the notion is (finally) catching on in other corners of the economy — and most excitingly it's creating opportunities for market-disrupting innovation.
Take electric vehicles (EVs). While Trump fights the auto industry's progress in manufacturing cleaner cars and trucks, countries such as China are investing in zero-emission vehicle technology at warp speed. According to a recent report by JP Morgan Research, China is expected to account for nearly 60 percent of all global EV sales by next year, and many Chinese businesses (the ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing, for example) are eager to profit while they help the world progress. The same goes for the folks behind other innovations — like plant-based faux meats, and energy-efficient fabrics made from coffee grounds, and petroleum-free plastics, and delivery vans fueled by food waste and ... you get the idea. A poll by the data firm Nielsen showed that 81 percent of consumers feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. The sustainability economy is booming — and climate-conscious Gen Z'ers and millennials are ready to buy accordingly.
At their best, corporate climate pledges open business practices up to public accountability and mark a first step toward real-life emissions cuts. At their worst, they provide a greenwashed shield behind which polluting companies can hide their status quo behaviors. Procter & Gamble, for one, boasts about the forest-friendly sourcing and certifications of its Charmin toilet paper (the company has no climate pledges to speak of). But in practice, P&G has been clear-cutting one of the world's most important carbon sinks, Canada's boreal forest, in the name of softer TP.
We are all in this climate crisis together, which is why it's crucial to make sure our leaders and retailers keep their promises. Presidents have power, but so do corporations. Corporations have power, but so do consumers.
Reposted with permission from onEarth.
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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