Rockaway Beach Provides A Sad Example Of The Integrated Nature Of The Triple Bottom Line

Are you familiar with the Triple Bottom Line? First defined by John Elkington more than two decades ago, it refers to the principle that an organization should measure its social performance and environmental performance, and not solely its financial (or economic) performance. It is occasionally known as the Three P’s of performance, i.e. People, Planet, Profit.

But the principle can also be interpreted in a more complex manner. Each of these three performance factors impacts the others. Thus, the “bottom lines” of these factors should be reported in an integrated manner.

Last week, the City of New York sadly announced a community restriction that illustrates the integrated nature of the Triple Bottom Line. Due to the hurricanes and rising tides of climate change, severe sand erosion on the city’s southeastern peninsula has led to the closing of a prime strip of sandy beach in the Rockaways.

The decision occurred after local tourist businesses opened for the season. Residents, of course, have already begun to protest their government leaders’ decision.

In this situation, an environmental crisis has led to a social and economic catastrophe for a working neighborhood that relies on its primary community resource — i.e. its summer beach — for its survival.

The residents of the Rockaways will gladly attest to the integrative nature of the Triple Bottom Line. Hopefully, the municipal leaders of your own town will learn from the current travails of their New York City colleagues.

If Corporations Are People, Why Can’t Monkeys Be People?

It’s the Memorial Day weekend! As always, the holiday launches the summer vacation season in the United States.

It also marks the start of a heavy traffic period throughout America’s national park system. Throngs of citizens will drive their vehicles into forests, beaches, and other natural venues to enjoy the natural environment. And park rangers will struggle to protect the natural creatures from the massive invasive impact of tourists who come to visit them.

Earlier this year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explored an innovative legal strategy to protect one such creature. It sued in an American court to protect the rights of a macaque (i.e. a monkey) named Naruto to own his own image.

Why was that approach so innovative? PETA claimed that Naruto possesses rights that are normally attributable to humans. It then proposed to appoint itself to serve as the “Next Friend,” or legal guardian, of the animal.

PETA lost the legal case. But might it consider filing an appeal? After all, non-human entities have been granted various human rights in the United States.

No less a figure than Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, for instance, once created quite a stir by addressing the question of non-human rights. His declaration that “corporations are people, my friend,” was enthusiastically supported by his political allies and roundly denounced by his foes.

But if a legal business structure can be granted certain human rights, why not an intelligent animal? After all, humans and monkeys are both natural entities that are born of the Earth. We can hardly say as much about corporations!

This might be worth pondering as you enjoy the Great Outdoors during your Memorial Day travels. If you disrespect Mother Nature, its “Next Friend” may sue you!

Why Jurisdictions From Maine To California Are Questioning The EPA’s Definition Of Transparency

California. Delaware. The District of Columbia. Iowa. Maine. Minnesota. Pennsylvania. New York.

Those jurisdictions cover a fairly broad geographic swath of the United States, don’t they? Last week, they joined forces to send the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a simple two paragraph letter that questioned its fundamental understanding of science.

What did the letter say? In effect, not much. It simply asked the EPA to consult with other organizations and gather feedback about its controversial transparency rule. According to this new policy, the Agency will only rely on the results of scientific studies if the researchers make their research data available to the public.

Who can argue with the principle of open and freely available information? In principle, no one can. But in practice, many types of data are kept confidential because of valid privacy concerns.

Consider, for instance, a researcher who collects Protected Health Information (PHI) from individuals who live in the vicinity of a toxic oil spill. Under federal law, such information cannot be shared with third parties, and certainly cannot be made public, without consent.

In such cases, many individuals are willing to share health information with private researchers. But they understandably balk at sharing their information with the public.

And what of all the older studies that researchers still rely upon to develop new research activities? If the scientists who produced those studies have destroyed the original data in accordance with standard confidentiality practices, will the Agency begin to act as if the older studies never existed?

Whether you support or oppose the transparency rule, it’s reasonable to ask how the Agency plans to address these pragmatic issues. Indeed, would any one be harmed if the Agency slows down, takes a deep breath, and gathers more feedback before it implements the rule?

The Eurasian (Lynx) Invasion

Beware, citizens of Great Britain … an invasion of Eurasians may be imminent! And if you don’t prevent it, you may be slaughtered like lambs.

That sounds like an argument in support of Brexit, doesn’t it? And yet it’s far more bloody than the debate over the European Union. In fact, the marauding Eurasians will actually behave like predators if they descend upon the British Isles. And their prey may indeed include lambs.

You see, environmentalists have mourned the loss of the British lynx species for a very long time. A close relative of the bobcat, the lynx helped to manage the spread of deer populations, and effectively maintained an important ecological balance in the Scottish woods.

Around the year 700, though, the British lynx was hunted into extinction because of the beauty of their fur coats. Today, 1,300 years later, naturalists propose to restore the species to the Isles by importing and releasing several of their Eurasian relatives.

Sheep farmers in the region, of course, are not pleased by the plan. Although they’ve been assured that their losses will be minimal, they don’t trust the authorities. And, to be sure, the restoration plan does raise a number of troubling moral questions.

For instance, is there ever a moral justification for threatening the current residents of a region by forcing them to confront a new predator? Don’t the deer and sheep have as much of a right to life as the lynx?

Furthermore, does the introduction of a Eurasian species really make up for the earlier extinction of its British counterpart? And does the interim passage of 1,300 years affect the moral clarity of any such act?

There are pragmatic questions to consider as well. Are the experts truly certain that they can control the spread of the lynx? Are there other animal species, as well as plant species, that may be harmed by the big cats?

Indeed, this is not a situation where environmentalists are proposing the preservation of a beloved endangered species with a long and continuous history. Instead, they are proposing the introduction of a distant relative of a species that has been extinct for more than a millennium.

That’s an entirely different story, isn’t it? For that reason, environmentalists may wish to take a deep breath and consider the implications of their plan before they take action. After all, once they let the cats out of the proverbial bag, they may not be able to capture them again.

Paris Unbound

Why would the United States, a nation that claims to be “the world’s leader in environmental protection,” withdraw from a global forum that would showcase its impressive success?

Is it because its President doesn’t really believe that the United States leads the world in environmental protection? That’s not a plausible explanation. President Trump made that statement very convincingly when he announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. He then elaborated by saying:

“The United States, under the Trump Administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth. We’ll be the cleanest. We’re going to have the cleanest air. We’re going to have the cleanest water. We will be environmentally friendly …”

So why would he withdraw? Is it because the Agreement would legally bind the United States to economically disadvantageous obligations? He did make those claims, but he also referred to those very constraints as non-binding in nature.

Oddly enough, “non-binding” wasn’t the word that Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah employed to explain why he supported President Trump’s withdrawal decision. To the contrary, Lee said that “… we can’t give excessive, unfettered power to a president to act alone, to bind an entire country to a set of principles, a set of rules that the president … makes.”

Lee was actually referring to former President Obama and not President Trump. He was arguing that Obama inappropriately signed the Paris agreement, and bound the United States to its terms, without the approval of the Republican Congress. According to Lee, “… we have to get back to the fact that this power, the power to enter into binding international agreements, this is a shared power.”

Clearly, there is a fundamental contradiction between Lee’s description of the Paris pact as binding and Trump’s description of it as non-binding. And making this contradiction even more confusing is the fact that the European Commission — which strongly supports the Paris Accord — also refers to it as a legally binding agreement.

So which is correct? Does the Paris agreement bind its signatory nations to its terms? If it does, then even a nation that considers itself “the world’s leader in environmental protection” may feel justified in withdrawing if those binding requirements are onerous in nature.

The answer to this question can be found in the European Commission’s description of the Agreement. Apparently, the Paris Accord binds all nations to set long-term goals, to report to each other on their progress, to strengthen their societies, and to acknowledge the need to cooperate with the international community. But it contains no verification, enforcement, or punishment mechanisms at all.

In other words, the Paris Accord only binds nations to act in good faith while attempting to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t otherwise bind any one to any particular course of action. That’s why many experts refer to each nation’s greenhouse gas reduction goal as a “… voluntary pledge to reduce emissions …”

With this in mind, let’s return to our central question. On PBS NewsHour, Senator Lee proudly promised that the United States “… will proceed … as a global leader in environmental regulation. We are a global leader in the rule of law. We have brought down emissions in this country through our legal system and through technological innovation.”

So why would America walk away from an international forum that would recognize its success? A pact that isn’t legally binding in any meaningful sense, other than the sense that it binds the United States to continue to try to maintain its position as a global leader?

If the true underlying rationale for withdrawal is not legally motivated, or economically motivated, or environmentally motivated, it may well be politically motivated. In other words, America’s toxic political system may be the driving force behind its President’s decision to “unbind” the nation from the non-binding Paris Accords.

Delete The Environment

Is it possible that we’re still debating the existence of climate change? Two months ago, President Trump’s Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that:

“… measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Secretary Scott Pruitt continued:

“We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

But review and analysis require data. And last week, the EPA removed significant amounts of public data and scientific information from its own web site.

Why would Secretary Pruitt remove data from public view if he believes that we need to “continue the review and the analysis” of the information? According to an EPA spokesperson, the removal was needed to “eliminate confusion by removing outdated language.” And yet the spokesperson didn’t explain why the language of the data was “outdated.”

So why should we feel concern? Given that climate changes over time, scientists must analyze data that has been collected over many years in order to evaluate the effects of various environmental factors. Thus, it is difficult to understand how a set of data can itself become “outdated.”

To be sure, this is not to say that Secretary Pruitt is wrong. In fact, it is never wrong to question established scientific findings, or to call for more review and analysis.

But such activities are simply impossible to perform when information that resides in the public realm is removed from public access. So when our government “of the people, by the people, for the people” compiles data and publishes it on a public web site, perhaps we’d be better served if it simply leaves it there.

Science: Fact vs. Inference

A set of scientific facts rockets across the internet. One highly respected news organization appears to cite it as a warning about global warming. But another appears to cite it to raise doubts about such warnings.

How can that be possible? It’s tempting to assume that one of these organizations must be engaged in the practice of “fake news.” A single set of facts cannot simultaneously support a pair of perfectly contradictory inferences, can it?

In reality, it can. And given that the phenomenon of global warming impacts the future of our planet, it might be helpful to take a moment to understand the difference between scientific fact and scientific inference.

The facts in question involve a gigantic crack in a region of the Antarctic ice shelf known as Larsen C. Environmental scientists have long warned that global warming would cause the collapse and melting of the shelf, generating massive increases in sea levels. Just yesterday, the New York Times reported that:

A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day.

But three weeks ago, National Public Radio reported that:

“A lot of things are going on deep inside the ice,” says Adrian Luckman, a glaciologist (who is) leading a project to track changes in the ice shelf. “This is probably not directly attributable to any warming in the region, although of course the warming won’t have helped … it’s probably just simply a natural event that’s just been waiting around to happen.”

Let’s think about the discrepancy in these news reports. At first glance, the Times appears to attribute the crack to global warming, and NPR appears to disagree with that attribution. But are the two organizations fully at odds with each other?

Not really. In reality, the authors are largely in agreement on the facts. Neither one concludes that the crack was directly caused by global warming. And neither one asserts that global warming had no impact whatsoever on the crack.

Furthermore, both authors concur that the region is warming. The Times reporter states that the area is “already vulnerable to warming temperatures.” And the NPR reporter quotes a glaciologist who agrees that “of course the warming won’t have helped.”

In other words, according to both authors, the Antarctic region is heating up and the Larsen C region is cracking. Neither concludes that the heat directly caused the cracking. They agree that other factors likely contributed to the situation. And yet they also believe that warming temperatures can’t possibly be beneficial for the stability of this gigantic chunk of ice.

Are the authors inclined to draw different inferences from the twin facts of warming temperatures and cracking ice? Sure. The Times author appears to be much more inclined to interpret the set of facts as supportive of concerns about global warming.

And yet, do they disagree on the underlying set of facts itself? Not at all.

It’s certainly reasonable to feel a bit distressed when reporters at two highly respected news organizations draw radically different inferences from a common set of facts. It’s only natural to hope that a pair of rational individuals could follow a common trail and arrive at the same destination.

But at least it’s comforting that these two reporters only differ on their inferences while agreeing on their facts. As long as we keep this scientific distinction in mind, we’ll be able to maintain our faith in science itself.

The California Water Crisis

As another absurdly frigid Winter melts into Spring in the northeastern United States, our meteorologists are not simply content to relax and enjoy the warmer weather. Instead, they are busily trying to understand why this particular season encompassed the coldest month in recorded history.

Why did this happen? Well, according to weather scientists, the polar jet stream developed a “kink” that drove the arctic air down over the eastern United States. To the south and west of the jet stream, however, the winter brought unprecedented heat and drought. That’s why California Governor Jerry Brown ordered a mandatory 25% reduction in water use for most residents and businesses within the Golden State.

If you check the “small print” of the Governor’s mandatory order, though, you’ll notice that one particular industry has been fully excused from implementing any conservation burden. Apparently, agricultural organizations need not reduce their water consumption habits at all.

This exemption is particularly meaningful because a whopping 80% of all water consumed in California is used by farms. In other words, Governor Brown is forcing a significant majority of all California consumers to adopt conservation measures, while not asking for any modifications from the farms that consume most of the state’s water.

Why won’t the Governor ask farmers to conserve any water? Last week, on national television, he defended his decision to exempt California’s farms, noting that they are “providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America … (and that) workers who are (at the) very low end of the economic scale here are out of work. There are people in agriculture areas that are really suffering.”

In other words, it appears that Governor Brown is exempting the agricultural industry from mandatory water conservation measures in order to protect it from economic distress. But such a policy may be shortchanging the ability of the industry to modify its own practices and emerge in a strengthened state.

For a relevant comparative example, let’s take a moment and consider the automobile industry. The federal government has repeatedly mandated improvements in CAFE fuel economy levels, despite periodic protests by the manufacturers that the requirements are not practical. And then, inevitably, what happens to the industry?

The auto manufacturers always manage to find innovative technologies that meet the new requirements. And by doing so, they become more competitive against their foreign rivals.

Might a similar process generate a similar outcome for California’s agricultural industry? Indeed, might mandatory agricultural water conservation measures compel farmers to find creative approaches for becoming more efficient with water?

It’s hard to understand why Governor Brown is so hesitant to give this approach a try. After all, if California based companies like Tesla and Google can invent cars that run on electricity and that don’t even require human drivers, why can’t technology firms in the Golden State develop agricultural methods that simply require a little less water?

Soil Pollution: A Familiar Menace

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the threat of climate change? Do the warnings of an imminent global catastrophe, recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, fill you with a sense of dread?

The phenomenon once known as “global warming” may represent a relatively new environmental threat, but it is certainly not the sole concern facing ecologists. Earlier this month, China’s Ministries of Environmental Protection and Land and Resources jointly published a study that indicated that 20% of the nation’s farmland is badly polluted.

Of course, for many years, China has been experiencing significant problems with air pollution as well. But the news that the earth beneath the feet of the Chinese population may be as badly polluted as the air in their skies has set off ecological alarm bells.

Meanwhile, Japanese residents of the Fukushima region are confronting similar concerns about their land. Although the Japanese government is now re-opening schools in the evacuation zone of the 2011 tsunami-triggered nuclear radiation accident, many remain fearful of soil contamination.

The United States is no stranger to the specter of environmental degradation. Over fifty years have passed since Rachel Carson wrote her landmark book Silent Spring, triggering the environmental movement.

But toxic soil, river, and canal pollutants still exist in places like Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal and Newark’s Passaic River, locations that are nestled deeply within the New York metropolitan region.

So if you’re struggling to grapple with the sheer immensity of the new, apocalyptic environmental threat of climate change, you may wish to shift your attention to an older, simpler, and more familiar menace. It’s soil pollution, an eternal and omnipresent problem.

Government officials in China, Japan, and the United States must address environmental threats with limited resources. How should they prioritize global threats like climate change against local threats like soil pollution?

Nature Heals The Environment

We’ve all heard horror stories about the environmental damage wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, haven’t we? The enduring image of that terrible storm remains the debris of an amusement park ride that was swept off the Jersey Shore and that sat rusting in the ocean water for six months. Other wreckage, as well, continues to endanger the coastal lakes near the Atlantic Ocean and pollute our natural environment.

Indeed, you are likely aware that dedicated and resourceful people are continuing to restore the environmental damage of Sandy. But did you know that Sandy and its after effects are continuing to restore decades of environmental damage caused by humans?

The Great South Bay of the New York City metropolitan region has been experiencing a brown tide of algae because of the effects of septic systems and wastewater treatment. The brown tide, protected from the restorative effects of the Atlantic Ocean tide by a mass of land, had been growing progressively and choking off healthier sea life.

But Sandy blasted a new channel through the land and enabled the surging ocean waters to bring oxygen and life into the algae zone. As a result, the algae bloom is now in full retreat.

The restorative effects of the simple movements of fresh water have been felt on other waterways as well. The City of New York, for instance, has installed gigantic water circulation pumps under the surface of the Gowanus Canal to help treat the toxic industrial waste of that waterway.

Nevertheless, are we complaining too vociferously about the cost that we humans must bear when healing Nature’s environmental damage of the New York shoreline? After all, we might want to pause first and consider the fact that Nature is already returning the favor in the Great South Bay.