Saving our planet; one bag at a time

October 8, 2007

Chill out, says Bjørn Lomborg, and get smart about global warming

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 10:13 pm

Bjorn Lomborg has interesting views on global warming 

Bjørn Lomborg, professor  at the Copenhagen Business School has some controversial views on the Kyoto approach to global warming. He believes the approach is unnecessarily complex and will yield far less than simpler ROI driven approaches. I agree with his thinking. Simple solutions like taxing plastic bags thus encouraging people to bring their own reusable cloth bags can achieve immensely beneficial results for our planet.

This article in the Washington Post sums up his views brilliantly.

Stop fighting over global warming — here’s the smart way to attack it.
By Bjorn Lomborg
Sunday, October 7, 2007 COPENHAGEN

All eyes are on Greenland’s melting glaciers as alarm about global warming spreads. This year, delegations of U.S. and European politicians have made pilgrimages to the fastest-moving glacier at Ilulissat, where they declare that they see climate change unfolding before their eyes.

Curiously, something that’s rarely mentioned is that temperatures in Greenland were higher in 1941 than they are today. Or that melt rates around Ilulissat were faster in the early part of the past century, according to a new study. And while the delegations first fly into Kangerlussuaq, about 100 miles to the south, they all change planes to go straight to Ilulissat — perhaps because the Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing.

I point this out not to challenge the reality of global warming or the fact that it’s caused in large part by humans, but because the discussion about climate change has turned into a nasty dustup, with one side arguing that we’re headed for catastrophe and the other maintaining that it’s all a hoax. I say that neither is right. It’s wrong to deny the obvious: The Earth is warming, and we’re causing it. But that’s not the whole story, and predictions of impending disaster just don’t stack up.

We have to rediscover the middle ground, where we can have a sensible conversation. We shouldn’t ignore climate change or the policies that could attack it. But we should be honest about the shortcomings and costs of those policies, as well as the benefits.

Environmental groups say that the only way to deal with the effects of global warming is to make drastic cuts in carbon emissions — a project that will cost the world trillions (the Kyoto Protocol alone would cost $180 billion annually). The research I’ve done over the last decade, beginning with my first book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” has convinced me that this approach is unsound; it means spending an awful lot to achieve very little. Instead, we should be thinking creatively and pragmatically about how we could combat the much larger challenges facing our planet.

Nobody knows for certain how climate change will play out. But we should deal with the most widely accepted estimates. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ocean levels will rise between half a foot and two feet, with the best expectation being about one foot, in this century, mainly because of water expanding as it warms. That’s similar to what the world experienced in the past 150 years.

Some individuals and environmental organizations scoff that the IPCC has severely underestimated the melting of glaciers, especially in Greenland. In fact, the IPCC has factored in the likely melt-off from Greenland (contributing a bit over an inch to sea levels in this century) and Antarctica (which, because global warming also generally produces more precipitation, will actually accumulate ice rather than shedding it, making sea levels two inches lower by 2100). At the moment, people are alarmed by a dramatic increase in Greenland’s melting. This high level seems transitory, but if sustained it would add three inches, instead of one, to the sea level rise by the end of the century.

A one-foot rise in sea level isn’t a catastrophe, though it will pose a problem, particularly for small island nations. But let’s remember that very little land was lost when sea levels rose last century. It costs relatively little to protect the land from rising tides: We can drain wetlands, build levees and divert waterways. As nations become richer and land becomes a scarcer commodity, this process makes ever more sense: Like our parents and grandparents, our generation will ensure that the water doesn’t claim valuable land.

The IPCC tells us two things: If we focus on economic development and ignore global warming, we’re likely to see a 13-inch rise in sea levels by 2100. If we focus instead on environmental concerns and, for instance, adopt the hefty cuts in carbon emissions many environmental groups promote, this could reduce the rise by about five inches. But cutting emissions comes at a cost: Everybody would be poorer in 2100. With less money around to protect land from the sea, cutting carbon emissions would mean that more dry land would be lost, especially in vulnerable regions such as Micronesia, Tuvalu, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
As sea levels rise, so will temperatures. It seems logical to expect more heat waves and therefore more deaths. But though this fact gets much less billing, rising temperatures will also reduce the number of cold spells. This is important because research shows that the cold is a much bigger killer than the heat. According to the first complete peer-reviewed survey of climate change’s health effects, global warming will actually save lives. It’s estimated that by 2050, global warming will cause almost 400,000 more heat-related deaths each year. But at the same time, 1.8 million fewer people will die from cold.

The Kyoto Protocol, with its drastic emissions cuts, is not a sensible way to stop people from dying in future heat waves. At a much lower cost, urban designers and politicians could lower temperatures more effectively by planting trees, adding water features and reducing the amount of asphalt in at-risk cities. Estimates show that this could reduce the peak temperatures in cities by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Global warming will claim lives in another way: by increasing the number of people at risk of catching malaria by about 3 percent over this century. According to scientific models, implementing the Kyoto Protocol for the rest of this century would reduce the malaria risk by just 0.2 percent.
 
Discussion PolicyDiscussion Policy CLOSEComments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain “signatures” by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post. 

On the other hand, we could spend $3 billion annually — 2 percent of the protocol’s cost — on mosquito nets and medication and cut malaria incidence almost in half within a decade. Malaria death rates are rising in sub-Saharan Africa, but this has nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with poverty: Poor and corrupt governments find it hard to implement and fund the spraying and the provision of mosquito nets that would help eradicate the disease. Yet for every dollar we spend saving one person through policies like the Kyoto Protocol, we could save 36,000 through direct intervention.

Of course, it’s not just humans we care about. Environmentalists point out that magnificent creatures such as polar bears will be decimated by global warming as their icy habitat melts. Kyoto would save just one bear a year. Yet every year, hunters kill 300 to 500 polar bears, according to the World Conservation Union. Outlawing this slaughter would be cheap and easy — and much more effective than a worldwide pact on carbon emissions.

Wherever you look, the inescapable conclusion is the same: Reducing carbon emissions is not the best way to help the world. I don’t point this out merely to be contrarian. We do need to fix global warming in the long run. But I’m frustrated at our blinkered focus on policies that won’t achieve it.

In 1992, wealthy nations promised to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. Instead, emissions grew by 12 percent. In 1997, they promised to cut emissions to about 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. Yet levels will likely be 25 percent higher than hoped for.

The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012. U.N. members will be negotiating its replacement in Copenhagen by the end of 2009. Politicians insist that the “next Kyoto” should be even tougher. But after two spectacular failures, we have to ask whether “let’s try again, and this time let’s aim for much higher reductions” is the right approach.

Even if the policymakers’ earlier promises had been met, they would have done virtually no good, but would have cost us a small fortune. The climate models show that Kyoto would have postponed the effects of global warming by seven days by the end of the century. Even if the United States and Australia had signed on and everyone stuck to Kyoto for this entire century, we would postpone the effects of global warming by only five years.

Proponents of pacts such as Kyoto want us to spend enormous sums of money doing very little good for the planet a hundred years from now. We need to find a smarter way. The first step is to start focusing our resources on making carbon emissions cuts much easier.

The typical cost of cutting a ton of CO2 is currently about $20. Yet, according to a wealth of scientific literature, the damage from a ton of carbon in the atmosphere is about $2. Spending $20 to do $2 worth of good is not smart policy. It may make you feel good, but it’s not going to stop global warming.
We need to reduce the cost of cutting emissions from $20 a ton to, say, $2. That would mean that really helping the environment wouldn’t just be the preserve of the rich but could be opened up to everyone else — including China and India, which are expected to be the main emitters of the 21st century but have many more pressing issues to deal with first.

The way to achieve this is to dramatically increase spending on research and development of low-carbon energy. Ideally, every nation should commit to spending 0.05 percent of its gross domestic product exploring non-carbon-emitting energy technologies, be they wind, wave or solar power, or capturing CO2emissions from power plants. This spending could add up to about $25 billion per year but would still be seven times cheaper than the Kyoto Protocol and would increase global R&D tenfold. All nations would be involved, yet the richer ones would pay the larger share.

We must accept that climate change is real and that we’ve helped cause it. There is no hoax. But neither is there a looming apocalypse.

To some people, cutting carbon emissions has become the answer, regardless of the question. Cutting emissions is said to be our “generational mission.” But don’t we want to implement the most efficient policies first?
 
Discussion PolicyDiscussion Policy CLOSEComments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain “signatures” by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post. 

Combating the real climate challenges facing the planet — malaria, more heat deaths, declining polar bear populations — often requires simpler, less glamorous policies than carbon cuts. We also need to remember that the 21st century will hold many other challenges, for which we need low-cost, durable solutions.
I formed the Copenhagen Consensus in 2004 so that some of the world’s top economists could come together to ask not only where we can do good, but at what cost, and to rank the best things for the world to do first. The top priorities they’ve come up with are dealing with infectious diseases, malnutrition, agricultural research and first-world access to third-world agriculture. For less than a fifth of Kyoto’s price tag, we could tackle all these issues.

Obviously we should also work on a long-term solution to climate change. Solving it will take the better part of a century and will require a political will spanning political parties, continents and generations. If we invest in research and development, we’ll do some real good in the long run, rather than just making ourselves feel good today.

But embracing the best response to global warming is difficult in the midst of bitter fighting that shuts out sensible dialogue. So first, we really need to cool our debate.

Bjorn Lomborg, an adjunct professor  at the Copenhagen Business School, is the author, most recently, of “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.”

October 5, 2007

Human Behavior, Global Warming, and the Ubiquitous Plastic Bag

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 3:30 pm

12 million barrels of oil are used to make the one billion bags Americans use and throw away

12 million barrels of oil are used to make the one billion bags Americans use and throw away. Why?

Here’s an article by Peter Applebome from the New York Times where he attempts to understand this apparently illogical behaviour:

When she moved to the United States from Germany seven years ago, Angela Neigl brought with her the energy-conscious sensibilities of life in Europe. You drove small cars. You recycled every can, lid and stray bit of household waste. You brought your own reusable bags or crate to the market rather than adding to the billions of plastic bags clogging landfills, killing aquatic creatures on the bottoms of oceans and lakes, and blowing in the wind.

But, alas, there she was Friday morning, lugging her white plastic bags from the Turco’s supermarket, like everyone else, figuring there was no fighting the American way of waste.

“When I was first here, I brought my own bags to the market, but they would stuff the groceries in the plastic bags anyway. Finally, I gave up,” she said. “People are very nice here. It’s more relaxed. But the environmental thing is a little scary.”

You could have learned a lot, I guess, about the politics of global warming from the lukewarm response President Bush received last week from skeptical delegates at his conference on climate change and energy security. But in the most micro of ways, you can learn plenty any day of the week at the Turco’s or the Food Emporium in Yorktown Heights, the Super Stop & Shop in North White Plains, the A.&P. or Mrs. Green’s Natural Market in Mount Kisco or just about anywhere Americans shop in Westchester County and beyond.

And the lesson for now pretty much seems to be that no matter how piddly the effort, no matter how small the bother, well, it’s too much bother.

“I know,” said Vicki Strebel, another Turco’s shopper, when asked about bringing a reusable bag rather than taking home the throwaway plastic. “I should, but I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m too busy. Things are too crazy. If I got the bags, I’d probably forget to put them in the car.”

Plastic bags are not the biggest single issue out there, and no expert on global warming would suggest solutions rest wholly with decisions made by individual consumers. On the other hand, it is estimated that the United States goes through 100 billion plastic bags a year, which take an estimated 12 million barrels of oil to produce and last almost forever. And if individual decisions can’t solve the problem, the wrong ones can certainly compound it.

Once upon a time, the question was plastic or paper, which had its own somewhat uncertain calculus of virtue and waste. Now, it has begun to dawn on people that you don’t need either. Most supermarkets these days sell sturdy, reusable bags for 99 cents that people can use instead of plastic ones.

Except almost no one does. For lots of different reasons. They buy them and forget to use them. (Truth in advertising: Count me among the serial offenders.) They figure they can reuse the plastic bags for garbage and dog-walking duties. They find them unhygienic; we fell in love with the throwaway culture for a reason. One reusable bag can hold the contents of several plastic ones, but that’s too heavy for the elderly or the frail to carry. It’s just not what we do.

Of course, there are exceptions. Trader Joe’s, for example, offers a variety of reusable bags and has raffles for free food or gift certificates for people who bring their own bag, so people use them.

San Francisco banned petroleum-based plastic bags in large supermarkets and pharmacies, which, depending on your mind-set, was visionary leadership or the green nanny state in action.

After Ireland enacted a stiff tax on the bags in 2001, consumption fell by 90 percent.

Mrs. Neigl says when visitors come from Germany, they’re baffled by the local customs, the tolerance of such stupendous, routine waste.

But having lived here for a while she gets it: all that open space, the lustrous green acres just 35 miles from Manhattan. “I guess people aren’t so concerned about the environment because they have so much of it,” she said.

Of course, people are aware it’s not that simple. But all too often awareness changes before behavior does.

At most of the grocers I visited you can find a quite remarkable Time magazine special issue on global warming. On its cover is a heartbreaking picture of a polar bear on a lonely frozen peninsula surrounded by what was once ice and is now water.

It would be a downer for supermarket décor, but in the absence of political leaders from the White House on down hammering home the message that the free ride of endless excess is about to run off the cliff, maybe it takes that kind of image on giant posters next to the cornflakes to get people’s attention.

Plastic bags are a small part of the picture. (Sport utility vehicles, McMansions, long commutes, anyone?) But you think, if we can’t change our behavior to deal with this one, we can’t change our behavior to deal with anything”.

Sometimes, it is impossible for a human being to believe that a thing as innocuous as the plastic bag he takes his shopping home in can do so much harm. For one person it isn’t easy to appreciate the staggering numbers involved.

You do need governments to step in here. Ireland put a tax on plastic bags and usage dropped 90% in just one year.

One more happy customer! Yipee!

Filed under: Happy customers — Kaajal @ 2:57 pm

Another thrilled customer - what a thrill we get!

Never mind how many customers write in telling us how happy they are with our work, the thrill never fades. We started this morning with a smile on our faces thanks to Mahima Mahadevan writing in with some very kind things to say. Here’s what Mahima wrote:

“I ordered 1000 bags from Norquest in August 2007 for Alternatives For Girls – the nonprofit agency I work at in Detroit, Michigan. 

I was extremely impressed with their prompt responses, attention to detail, and professional attitude.  On top of that, the bags were delivered exactly on time and looked beautiful! 

Their website is an excellent gauge of how organized and professional this company is.  I was able to view pictures of all the different bags, including pricing and dimensions. 

My inquiries were responded to within a day.  And placing an order was very simple and clear. 

We have given these bags to our staff, volunteers, and donors as a gift to show our appreciation for their dedication, service, and generosity.  We couldn’t have asked for a better gift than these bags because everyone loved them!  They appreciated a quality gift they can actually use instead of wondering what to do with it. 

And the best part, the bags were completely affordable for a nonprofit agency on a small budget.  Finally, we were able to imprint our logo and website on the bags, which will be publicity for our agency for many years!  We will definitely use Norquest again to purchase our next set of canvas bags.

Alternatives For Girls
903 W. Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI, 48208”

Thank you Mahima, thank you for taking the time to say this. You made our day! We will look forward to being off service again one day soon.

October 4, 2007

Did we save the world from 250 million plastic bags last year? According to Morsbag, maybe we did!

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 2:34 pm

These ladies make their own Morsbags

Morsbags are what they call “a sociable guerilla bagging network.” Their site encourages folks around the world to get together and stitch their own cloth bags from any fabric they have lying around – used curtains, whatever…

I wrote to Pol at Morsbags.com to find out how it all started.

Here’s Pol telling us how she got going “How did we start? We started overnight in January 2007 due to frustration of seeing plastic bags floating down the canal where we live in London (on a houseboat). I had the idea, phoned mum to come up with a simple design and asked my fiancé Joseph to design a web page that night so that we could share the pattern, encourage people to join in and raise awareness of the horrific harm that plastic bags can cause to marine wildlife.

I was devastated to find the news about the dead Minke whale washed up in Normandy, France with it’s stomach full of plastic bags and wanted to do something immediate and positive to help, rather than just saying no to plastic bags; the idea of giving them away to compete against the free supermarket ones seemed like the only answer – we reckon each morsbag potentially replaces 500 plastic bags! Over 5200 have now been made. They’re extremely easy and surprisingly addictive to make.

So, at HQ, it’s just me and Joseph, but there are 200 ‘pods’ (groups or individuals) all over the UK, America, New Zealand, Spain, France etc who have joined us to make morsbags out of their old curtains, duvet covers and pillow cases, enjoying glasses of wine and sewing, before distributing them, guerilla style for free to the public. People in pods meet whenever they want and others set up bag making workshops. They also get together to hand out the bags on handout days (such as Oct 13th and Dec 1st) although if shy, some people prefer to give them to friends, relatives, colleagues or post them through letterboxes, give them out at school etc.

People in “pods” meet whenever they want and others set up bag making workshops. They also get together to hand out the bags on handout days (such as Oct 13th and Dec 1st) although if shy, some people prefer to give them to friends, relatives, colleagues or post them through letterboxes, give them out at school etc”.

Well done, Pol! What you are doing is heartening and I wish you great success. I wish we could learn how to bring people together for the cause in this manner.

We at Norquest also share in her pride.

I’ve often wondered how many plastic bags each of our bags substitutes. I live in India and have no way to observe what people in the West do when they receive a cotton bag.

If, as Pol assumes, every one of the roughly 5,00,000 bags we sold last year caused people to use 500 less bags, that’s a total of 250,000,000 – 250 million plastic bags less polluting our earth! Sure feels good!

October 1, 2007

Our new line of bags

Filed under: New products — Kaajal @ 6:02 pm

Manini has  just designed an exciting new line for us, using a variety of textures and fabrics with a line of specially designed prints.

My wife Manini just loves bags. She’s just designed an exciting new line for us, using a variety of textures and fabrics with a line of specially designed prints. To get a feel of how beautiful they really are, you need to see big pictures. Until we get them on to our own website, go see them at http://www.flickr.com/photos/24155524@N00/sets/72157602218872388/

Please, please give us some feedback. Write to me at rajiv at badlani dot com.

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