Starbucks plans to sell carbon credits

So apparently, climate change is, like, a big deal to agriculture or something. True, dat, but honestly, if I have to read one more story about the decline of wine varieties in a 2°C world, I may jump the train to denial.

So it’s not a big surprise that it won’t just be McDonald’s customers who suffer from hot coffee. Today, the director of environmental impact for Starbucks spoke at a Union of Concerned Scientists briefing in Capitol Hill on the risks that climate change pose on his company’s business.

Of course, much of the mainstream media jumped on this attention grabber, although the agriculture-climate story is losing a bit of its luster. What I found to be more interesting is that Starbucks is planning to quantify its mitigation potential and package it in neat little carbon offsets, according to environment director Jim Hanna. The company has been working with Conservation International to create and eventually certify a method to “turn our coffee farmers into carbon farmers.”

I don’t know how many Fortune 500 companies are already trying to play Monopoly with the carbon market, but I know that Starbucks isn’t the first to express interest in an interview. In August, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant told me that his biotech– with its hundreds of thousands of acres of research fields– could potentially sell offsets as well. It had been on his mind for a while, he had told me.
“At Monsanto, we’re a net carbon sink,” he said.

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My heart is an idiot too… just not for the same reason

This past Saturday, I went to the Fridge DC, an art gallery and community space in the thick of the Eastern Market bush, to see Davy Rothbart and David Meiklejohn’s new documentary film chronicling the romantic tribulations of the former and the shaky camera work of the latter.

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Water thieves

Coverage of the UN climate negotiations never seems complete without an anectdote on the irony of environmental degradation in the host country. In Copenhagen, the Danish were producing more trash than anywhere else (this theme was picked up again in December 2009). In Cancun, it was a no-brainer– generations of drunken, spoiled American spring breakers and honeymooners were f-in up the nice coral reefs. This year, the cause is starting with water shortages, one of the hurdles most closely related to climate change.

What really struck me about this article, however, was the factoid near the end of the article: 35 percent of the water is lost or stolen through illegal connections.

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“No one’s going to show up on Oscar night”

So thought Ian Mackaye, pivotal DIY icon and lead singer of Minor Threat, the Teen Idles, and in the case of this particular night, Fugazi, when it was suggested that the band’s documentary Instrument, directed by Jem Cohen, screen on Feb. 27.

Jem Cohen, Ian Mackaye and Guy PicciottoFeb. 27.

Mackaye could clearly see the 528-seat theatre in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. was packed. Maybe he didn’t see that there had been at least 150 more wating in line before the theatre was packed. I, running late as usual, got in line too late to enter when Instrument started. But I know how these rock gigs go: a little waiting, a little patience, and I was in 40 minutes later, as confused museum-goers trickled out of the theatre, wondering what the hell they had gotten into. Plus, no rock experience is complete without waiting in line. I chatted with a beautiful intellectual -type woman and overhead a teenage black kid claim he was Guy. P’s (Fugazi singer/guitarist) son. Continue reading

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A wrap-up of last weekend (#snailblogging)

Apologies for the delay of this post, one to file under #snailblogging. Speaking of hash tags, check out my tweets (and those of other AAAS attendees) at #AAASmtg.

Last President’s Day weekend, instead of going shopping for more professional clothing like my mom suggested, I attended the 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. It seems to me that the AAAS meeting is to scientists what Burning Man is to corporate types, perhaps with fewer experimental drugs: a chance to break loose from the rigidity of the lab, office or university lecture hall and join in a community of science lovers. There is a goal– to further the practice, communication and support of science– but the means are so divergent, so spread out, that the ends can be unclear. Continue reading

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AAAS meeting 2011 in Washington, DC and more

Twelve months ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in my home town. I wanted to go. I couldn’t, and instead spent my time in bloody cold London wrinting papers on H1N1/putting together a podcast/streeing over some foregettable fellow or another. But none of that is important.

Since then, I finished my MA in Science Journalism at CIty University London, bummed around looking for work, accepted an internship at Climatewire in Washington, DC which coincidentally, is the site of the AAAS meeting this year. I love it when things come to me rather than I to them.

It’s my second day here, and I’m, in native Cali parlance, super-stoked. I’m been attending a lot of the agriculture and food security events, and unfortunately haven’t had much time for the other subjects (although I did sneak in Lisa Randall’s lecture on string theory). I really wish I could sneak out a bit more out of my beat and check out the evolution, linguistics and renewable energy talks… and nanotech… and ecology. Not a lot of hard news stories in my area, so far, but I’ve got so much science background for stories here, I’m like wallpaper. Check out my tweets here.

I hope to get back to blogging more, focusing my writing on agriculture and moving it away from the posterous platform. Like all good blogs, this one is motivated by the idea for an awesome name… I’ll give you the initials: RB. I’m also hoping this new blog will encourage me to produce more audio and multimedia, once I get my equipment sorted.

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Scientists take on Alan Oxley & Co.: where’s the science?

[[posterous-content:pid___0]]Last Monday, a group of 12 scientists from diverse backgrounds published an open letter denouncing the pro-development organisation World Growth and ITS Global, a consulting group with ties to numerous timber companies.

The letter, titled “An Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests” is directed towards the head of World Growth and ITS, Alan Oxley. “Ambassador” Oxley, as he likes to be known, is a notorious climate denier promoter of deforestation in the name of poverty alleviation. He is also a staunch defender of the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia and has published many opinion pieces in Forbes, the Jakarta Post, and most prolifically, on the World Growth web site. A former Australian ambassador to the delegation for the General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade (GATT, now known as the WTO), Oxley’s title has proven to have a longer shelf life than GATT itself. Maybe it’s the palm oil?

The signatories include the Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich and Nobel laureate Omar Masera. A number of bullet points identify why scientists disagree with Oxley: he says that deforestation is caused by small-scale farmers, scientists say it’s industrialised agriculture; he lobbies on behalf of big timber and palm oil companies; that forests are not diminishing at an alarming rate, scientists say they are.

The past week has served as a back-and-forth sparring match between Oxley and the scientists, amounting to little more than a he-said she-said ping pong ball.

Maybe it’s because there’s one thing missing from the scientists’ letter: The freakin’ science! While the claims of the open letter are most likely true, and meticulously footnoted, there is a strange lack of figures, studies and, well, proof. The closest indication of evidence comes in bullets no. 5 and 7: “recent research has demonstrated that much of the oil palm expansion in Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 came at the expense of native forests” and

“A recent technical report by ITS concluded that ‘There is no evidence of substantial deforestation’ in Papua New Guinea, a conclusion strongly at variance with quantitative, remote-sensing studies of forest conversion published in the refereed scientific literature. Reports from WGI and ITS routinely claim that newly established oil palm plantations sequester carbon more rapidly than do old-growth rainforests. This claim, while technically correct, is a distraction from the reality that mature oil palm plantations store much less carbon than do old-growth rainforests (plantations store just 40-80 tons of biomass aboveground, half of which is carbon, compared to 200,400 tons of aboveground biomass in old-growth rainforests).”

Which leads me to ask: what is the point of having a scientist-penned letter if it simply reads like the very rhetoric it is seeking to disqualify? Maybe the authors felt their message would be heard louder if they dumbed it down a bit, making the assumption that the audience is unable to understand carbon squestration, or energy equations, or kilojoules per hectare. I feel these scientists took the opportunity to do the right thing, but did not use their full potential. Kind of like the pretty girl who doesn’t work hard enough in her photo shoot on America’s Next Top Model.

The letter was picked up by a few fringe environmental publications, including the Greenpeace UK blog, Mongabay and REDD Monitor, as well as the Jakarta Globe and the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog. The Mongabay article is particularly thorough regarding Oxley’s background and his reaction to past and current accusations.


Photo: Indonesian palm oil plantation by a_rabin on Flickr Creative Commons site.

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