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It’s all about people



Published June 2, 2014
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People really do make a difference. Sure, when we talk about driving change to more sustainable practices, it’s stewardship. But, at the end of the day, it is focus and commitment by individuals that effect change.  There are several stories below that support this claim but the first one, by way of introduction, is about someone whom you may remember, Joyce Caldwell. A number of years ago, when Joyce was in the fifth grade, I wrote about her.  She had just won a student achievement award for the second year in a row by writing and speaking about global climate change, recycling, and a general need for commitment to sustainability, all this in the fifth grade. Five years later, Joyce is in the news again for attempting to start a new health clinic in an impoverished village in the Dominican Republic.

Joyce visited that country under the auspices of the Global Leadership Adventures Group. She observed health problems that she believed were caused by a lack of health education and a scarcity of medical resources.

“Kids would run around with burn marks infected all over their
bodies, and it’s so unfair that they have no access to anything,” she
said.  “It blew my mind that no one’s done anything for those   people.”

During her trip, Joyce gathered support for awareness for the lack of medical facilities. A project was created and was called “Helping Humanity.” Her group chose Carrabayo, a Haitian refugee camp, for the location of the clinic.  The need was huge, as the Haitians were discriminated against by the Dominican society.  In fact, children of the Haitian refugee camp were not recognized either by Haiti or the Dominican Republic.  This discrimination led to a lack of simple medical resources.

Joyce’s goal was to build a clinic in the camp to provide basic medical care and ultimately to educate young girls on sexually transmitted diseases.

About $12,000 is needed for a three room facility. Equipment includes examination tables, stethoscopes, and medical kits. Joyce would like to break ground this summer. She already has a third of the necessary funds raised (Joyce is also head of fundraising). Joyce, five years later, is more worldly and committed to helping the world than many who way older.  She is connected to a cause and committed to making change. I wonder when we will next hear about Joyce!

Story two is about SLCPs.  What are they?  SLCP is the acronym for Short Lived Climate Pollutant.  This group of pollutants includes black carbon, methane, and some hydrofluorcarbons.  They are called SLCPs because they remain in the atmosphere for shorter periods of time than carbon. However, reducing them can lead to more immediate enrivonmental benefits. For example, black carbon, which can come from open fires in landfills, lasts three to eight days in the atmosphere, while normal CO2 lasts four to eighteen days and methane for up to twelve years.  “It will take hundreds of years to see the impact of reducing CO2 today, but reducing SLCPs has a more immediate impact since black carbon remains in the atmosphere for a number of days and weeks while methane for years,” says Nimmi Damodaran, vice president of Stratus Consulting, an environmental research and consulting firm.  He continues, “We still have to stay on track to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but if we can immediately reduce the pollutants that have shorter lifetimes, we can see results more quickly.”

What is really new about SLCPs is not the identification but rather grouping them together.  It’s an umbrella term that international groups, non-governmental organizations and private companies use to address the improper disposal of solid waste prevalent in developing countries:  solid waste, that is illegally dumped, or burned without permits or controls, or is dumped in open landfills where methane is not captured.  The result is that SLCPs are created.

While the United States and Europe have implemented regulations and practices that dramatically reduce SLCPs, the same can’t be said for developing countries. In fact, if you read the United Nations’ Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) Report, you’ll learn that SLCPs lead to “2.5 million premature deaths each year and annual crop losses of more than 30 million tons.  The CCAC reports that by reducing SLCPs worldwide, it can curb climate change by one-half degree Celsius in the next 30 years.” There are corollary benefits to reducing SLCPs such as health, economic, and energy. For example, by reducing SLCPs, you can reduce respiratory problems associated with particulates; by capturing methane you can convert to a valuable energy source. The changes are real and measurable!

In early 2012 the United States launched CCAC to reduce SLCPs in developing countries.  The coalition now includes more than 60 members, countries, government and non-government organizations.  One of these organizations is the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) headquartered in Vienna and focused on issues of solid waste and climate change. Rachel Williams Gaul, technical manager for ISWA, says:  “When we heard about CCAC, we jumped at the opportunity to join. The CCAC focus, to reduce SLCPs, aimed at reducing negative impacts on the climate, human health and food security are closely aligned with ISWA.”

Here’s the point: individuals can help affect change, if they make the reduction of SLCPs a priority. While it is common practice in the Western hemisphere, it is not in developing economies. The efforts of organizations like ISWA support my contention that people can make a difference.

The third story is about Stop Pebble, a campaign launched in 2010 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  This campaign was led by Robert Redford and was mounted against Anglo-American and their partner’s efforts to obtain permits to open up a gold and copper mining operation in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska.  Anglo-American is a huge British mining company that claimed it could “gorge a vast and toxic open pit out of the Bristol Bay watershed, without destroying the world-class salmon runs that are the economic, cultural, and ecological linchpin of the region.” Redford and NRDC contested that the Pebble mine would generate billions of tons of contaminated waste.  The fight went on for years, cost millions in legal fees and seemed to be headed to a final court decision.

However, Anglo-American has suddenly pulled out. Perhaps it wasn’t only NRDC action, as the EPA did an impact study and stated that the Pebble Mine posed “catastrophic risks.” In the end Anglo-American walked away from $570 million in mine investment. Not only did they have opposition from NRDC and the EPA but from local residents, commercial fisherman, and a host of environmental organizations.  The battle may not be over, as Northern Dynasty Minerals, one of the Anglo-American partners, is now the sole owner of the project and is looking for more investors.

For now, David has slain Goliath.  A commitment to persevere, to follow a belief in what is right, and to challenge at any cost, an investment that would cause environmental and ecological havoc, has been successful.  People can bring change.

The antithesis to these is the unlikely story of Mr. Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the largest corporations in the world and the largest natural gas producer here in the US.  This story smacks of so much hypocrisy that if it weren’t so stupid, it would be funny.

Hydraulic Fracturing, aka “fracking,” is a major production method for extracting natural gas.  Tillerson has been so committed to developing “frack fields” that he constantly complains about critics who want examination, permitting, and regulation for fracking. According to Tillerson, “this type of dysfunctional regulation is holding back the American economic recovery, growth, and global competitiveness.” In other words, you shouldn’t be upset if ExxonMobil comes knocking on your door to tell you that fracking, along with noise, trucks, chemicals, water, etc., is to become part of your daily life.

Unless, of course, you happen to live in Mr. Tillerson’s neighborhood. Then the rules are different, very different. (Hah, can you imagine!)

Mr. Tillerson, nah, not any more, Rex, pulled a NIMBY. Can you believe it, after professing, publicly, the virtues of fracking, he decides he doesn’t want fracking in his own back yard. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal has to say:

Bartonville, Texas – One evening last November, a tall white-haired man turned up at a Town Council meeting to protest construction of a water tower near his home in this wealthy community outside Dallas. The man was Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil Corp.

He and his neighbors had filed suit to block the tower, saying it is illegal and would create “a noise nuisance and traffic hazards,” in part because it would provide water for use in hydraulic fracturing. Fracking, which requires heavy trucks to haul and pump massive amounts of water, unlocks oil and gas from dense rock and has helped touch off a surge in US energy output.

It is also a core part of Exxon’s business.
Oops.

Talk about the height of hypocrisy.  The WSJ confirms this month’s message: that it’s all about people, and they can champion any cause.  Indeed, they make a difference, one way or the other. My suggestion on this one:  Rex, find a new profession.

Another Letter from the Earth.




Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.


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