Follow Buttons



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day 2015!

This year's Earth Day is special. Here's why.

Two thousand fifteen is the year of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris this December. The objective of the conference (and the hope of many people across the world)? To reach a legally-binding and universal agreement on climate - from all nations of the world. A Montreal Protocol for climate change if you will. My fingers are crossed.

The other reason this year's Earth Day is so special is because 2015 is our deadline for achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. These international development goals were established in the year 2000 and include ensuring environmental sustainability, eradicating extreme poverty, and reducing child mortality, among five others.

It has been 45 years since the first Earth Day back in 1970. We've made good progress on many fronts, but there is still plenty of work to do. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

"But the big decisions that lie ahead are not just for world leaders and policy-makers. Today, on Mother Earth Day, I ask each one of us to be mindful of the impacts our choices have on this planet, and what those impacts will mean for future generations."

Keep these words in mind as you celebrate this Earth Day.

Read More
Blogger Widgets

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Roses Of Taif

I heard they're pretty famous...

So a year after visiting Taif and going on my first camel ride, I returned to Taif to check out the 2015 Rose Festival at King Faisal Gardens.

The best part was definitely the smell in the souq, where vendors were selling anything and everything roses, including rose scented soap, rose paintings, rose water, and of course, roses themselves.

Other than that, it was just like any other carnival/festival, with rides, picnic areas, and food vendors. I didn't see many games...

The worst part was definitely getting there and back. Taking the "Christian Bypass" around Mecca and going up and down that mountain are just... a headache.

Read More

Monday, April 13, 2015

The What And Why Of Sustainability Reporting

Sustainability reporting is an integral part of any organization's sustainability effort. And because no two operations are the same - with different goals, different impacts, and different people in charge of the sustainability efforts - the final reporting products are all unique. You may decide to go with an "in accordance" GRI report or you could just use brief paragraphs, infographics, and fact sheets on your website to get the point across (which is what I have chosen to do).

So how do you decide? That will have to be something your team struggles with as you learn more about yourselves, your organization and its impacts, and the latest sustainability trends and practices.

But for now, knowing the what and why of sustainability reporting should help get the ball rolling with that struggle.

What is Sustainability Reporting?

Sustainability reporting is the avenue through which organizations publish the social, economic, and/or environmental impacts of their day-to-day activities. It involves making public data on things like energy consumption, waste generation, and employee engagement.

An initial assessment report can be used to set goals and develop a strategy for reaching those goals. As progress is made in correcting those issues which require attention, that information is included in subsequent reports.

Sustainability reporting, therefore, is the process of identifying, managing, and tracking the change required to achieve a sustainably operated organization – one that combines long term success and prosperity with ethical social and environmental behavior.

A sustainability report, in addition to conveying an organization's values, is the perfect platform for organizations to communicate sustainability performance – positive or negative – to both internal and external stakeholders.

Why Sustainability Reporting?

The most important reason for sustainability reporting is so organizations can better understand their social, economic, and/or environmental impacts and learn how to make their operations more sustainable.

The reporting process allows organizations to generate relevant and reliable information on their sustainability impacts and performance. Using that information, they can then identify and focus on their most important issues. At the same time, they can identify new opportunities and unforeseen risks associated with reducing their impacts and improving their performance.

On top of learning about their own impacts and ways of dealing with them, a sustainability report allows for more informed decision-making, transparency, and trust.

By measuring performance, managing change, and communicating this to all involved, organizations can drive innovation, cut costs, improve their competitiveness, and protect people and the environment - all at the same time.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) divides the benefits into internal and external ones:

Internal Benefits Include:
  1. The development of a vision and strategy for operating in a more sustainable way
  2. Giving structure to, providing context for, and tracking the progress of sustainability initiatives
  3. Allowing for the identification of sustainability strengths and weaknesses, prioritizing them, and focusing time, energy, and other resources on those issues requiring the most attention
  4. Attracting, motivating, and retaining better people, who are at the heart of every organization (they will contribute more and stay longer if they are motivated and empowered)
External Benefits Include:
  1. Enhancing your public reputation
  2. Building trust with external stakeholders through transparency
  3. Achieving respect
  4. Attracting investment by showing you have more than just a sustainable economic model - you have social and environmental ethics and priorities as well
  5. Improving your competitiveness. There is worldwide awareness of the need for sustainability, but reporting and taking action are still fairly new. You'll be walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. This will help to set you apart.
    Remember, sustainability reporting is important, but it isn't everything. You still need to turn those words into actions. As with anything, it's what we do that counts.

    Read More

    Saturday, April 11, 2015

    King Abdullah Economic City (Plus 8 Fun Facts)

    King Abdullah Economic City is pretty cool. You might even feel like you're not in Saudi Arabia anymore. It is truly a modern city oasis.

    I originally went to see the Salvador Dali exhibition, but before I got to that, the group I was with was given a tour by the community manager, Omar. He showed us around the visitor center, including a PR film, and gave us some fun facts about King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). Then I checked out the Dali artwork...

    After that, Omar took us to a private beach and then to a row of restaurants along the Red Sea for dinner. The sunset was pretty spectacular, as you'll see below.

    I highly recommend visiting KAEC if you can.

    Here are some of those fun facts:
    1. There are only about 3,000 residents so far. I believe Omar said they're shooting for 2 million.
    2. About 30% of the population is Saudi.
    3. The port opened in Fall 2013 and is among the top ten biggest in the world.
    4. The visitor center was the first building built.
    5. Sustainable design is incorporated throughout, but I don't really see it. No offense.
    6. All of the water they use is desalinated Red Sea water.
    7. They have their own generator for the city. They plan on being connected to the national grid by 2018.
    8. A high-speed train will connect KAEC to Jeddah in 25 minutes. It was also go to Mecca and Medina.
    I like models. That's the port that is now operating.

    It's a big model.

    Some pictures from the top of the visitor center...

    First floor of the visitor center.

    Taking in the sunset at dinner.

    Read More

    Thursday, April 9, 2015

    Some Thoughts On Sustainability

    Environmental Awareness

    As I look back on the past year of building a sustainability effort at Effat University - a private, non-profit, all-female institution in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - I'd like to share with you some thoughts on the overal experience.

    Perhaps because I'm human, my first thoughts are about the challenges I faced. These included gathering and validating data and building the right team to identify and implement solutions.

    But by far the toughest part of incorporating sustainability principles into our operations has been building an organization-wide understanding of sustainability. Doing so is very important, because if there is an understanding of the value of such an initiative, gaining leadership and overall consensus is much easier. If you have leadership and community support, the rest is then simply about working together on solutions. That’s because, beyond education, sustainability is about cooperation.

    Sadly, this education obstacle is not unique to our university. All throughout the world, the sustainability movement is being hindered not only by economic and value systems that place profit above all else, but also by the lack of understanding of what sustainability is, what it means for an organization, and what it means for the world. Or, even worse, we derive different meanings, different meanings that only serve to produce competing sustainability agendas rather than a common objective.

    What is sustainability?

    For the sake of simplicity, let's first look at the definition provided by the disbanded Brundtland Commission in their final report Our Common Future.

    They defined sustainability, or sustainable development, as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Many would argue this definition is insufficient and overly simplistic. I tend to agree. Perhaps a better definition would be "improving the lives of people around the world and maintaining that way of life indefinitely, by designing economies and other social institutions that are fair and operate within the natural limits of Earth."

    Given the current way in which we "develop", it’s an inherently paradoxical concept. How can the continued growth of our economies, which currently rely so heavily on the exploitation of people and planet, be sustainable? Well, it's not. This approach to operating spaceship Earth simply won't work on the timescales we should all be concerned with.

    Hundreds of millions of people still live in poverty and lack the most basic of services. Wealth continues to accumulate in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Our climate is changing before our eyes, with more frequent and intense weather events costing us tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage annually. Biodiversity continues to decline rapidly, threatening the basic functioning of the ecosystems that we so massively depend on for resources and waste removal. These are just a few of the many social, economic, and environmental issues we face.

    How did we get into this mess?

    It's simple, really. The environmental and sustainability movements came about in response to humans spending most of their time becoming richer without considering the human and natural capital that our profits depend on. Think of it like this: If the last 200-300 years of capitalism were a person, the torso would be our global economy, getting fatter and fatter as the years passed. The people and the natural environment that support this economy would be the legs, growing weaker by the day, having a harder and harder time supporting the growing torso.

    Governments have done a decent job at reigning in capitalism to avoid its pitfalls, and they can certainly do more - but it's a very slow go. They simply don't have the political will. Why? Because their values, and the values of the people who elect them, are corrupt. As a whole, profit is still the most important thing.

    How can we change this?

    If you said education, you're correct. Incorporating environmental science and sustainability coursework at all levels of education around the world would go a long way. We need future generations who value people and the environment as much as, or more than, profit - and we need to start now.

    It isn't too late for us older generations either. I'm the perfect example. I grew up in the pinnacle of consumerist societies (the USA) and have learned to live and think differently than most as a result of my higher education. It really opened my eyes to what we were doing to the environment and other people as we relentlessly pursue profits.

    For those of us who can't return to school, there is plenty of information out there and it is easier than ever to access over the Internet. So educate yourself, and remind yourself that without people and the environment, there is no economy, and therefore no standard of living like the one you have today. If you own or run a business, know that sustainability is good for the long-term success of your business, with wealthier lower classes better able to afford your products and services, and a healthier natural environment providing you with a stable climate to conduct business in, among many other things.

    In the end, sustainability is simply a mindset, a mindset that we can all achieve through education. So share this article with your friends and family, discuss sustainability with them, and continue the dialogue. We can learn to set aside our differences and work together on a common goal, one that allows us to improve life for all in socially and environmentally responsible ways.

    We only have one Earth, one home, so we need to get this right - and I know we will. Sadly, however, we are human and we tend to only act out of necessity. We won't change in meaningful ways until catastrophe strikes. History has proven this time and again. I just hope things don't get too bad before we act.

    Read More

    Friday, February 27, 2015

    What Is Environmental Sustainability? (Infographic)

    Here is an infographic I made for educating and engaging our campus community on the topic of sustainability. A huge part of managing sustainability efforts is simply that: educating and engaging people. This is how I'm going about it.

    Feel free to use this any way you would like. Knowledge should be open and free.

    What Is Sustainability Infographic

    Read More

    Monday, February 23, 2015

    An Overview Of The Overview Effect

    The Overview Effect

    Have you ever seen Earth from space? Yeah, neither have I. But according to the people who have, it can have a profound effect on the way you view our planet and your place on it.

    And I don't doubt them, because after watching the video below, I was very moved. As an environmental science teacher, I already have an appreciation for how delicate and unique our planet is, but this video stirred new thoughts and emotions. I can only begin to imagine what it would be like to view Earth from space and the feeling you must get.

    But since that will probably never happen for me, I'll have to stick to videos like the one below or images like the one above. They may not have the same impact, but they certainly were able to move me. I hope they move you too.

    The Overview Effect is simple: Once you see Earth from space, you will gain a new appreciation and awareness of our home. You will see Earth as a relatively insignificant and delicate ball of life surrounded by the emptiness of a very harsh outer space-with a paper-thin layer of gas protecting us from certain death. All of a sudden, differences among people and political boundaries vanish and you begin to view the human race as a single global society.

    The term was coined in 1987 by Frank White, who wrote the book The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution.

    Enjoy the video.

    Read More

    Sunday, February 22, 2015

    What You Need To Know About Biodiversity


    Biodiversity is simply the variety of living things-or number of species-in a particular area. It is a contraction of the words "biological" and "diversity". Biodiversity can refer to variation within or between species, but is usually used to refer to the variety of life in an ecosystem.

    There are about 5 to 30 million different species on Earth, with about 1.75 million being named, classified, and described. Most of those that have been named, classified, and described are insects, meaning, as the count now stands, terrestrial ecosystems are more biodiverse than ocean ecosystems.

    Biodiversity is fundamentally important to the functioning of natural and man-made ecosystems. All species play a role in the services that ecosystems provide. They cycle the matter and forward the energy that all of us depend on.

    But biodiversity is taking a hit from human activity. Globally, it is declining at rates estimated to be 100 to 10,000 times faster than natural. The main reason? We are destroying the habitat on which these species depend-we are destroying their homes. Another scary estimate? Up to 50% of well-understood species are threatened with extinction.

    Some scientists argue that we are in the middle of the Earth's 6th mass extinction event. Go us.

    Read More

    Friday, February 20, 2015

    8 Ways The World Might End


    Did anyone else see the CNN piece on potential doomsday scenarios? If not, here's a summary.

    Scientists conducted a two-year study to determine the most likely ways that human civilization will end. Here are eight of those ways:

    1) Nuclear War: The odds of this occurring have gone down since the Cold War, but I guess it's still a possible scenario. I still don't think anyone is stupid enough to start a fight where both sides lose. But maybe I'm wrong...

    2) Climate Change: Although this will be a huge headache for human civilization due to mass migration, food and water insecurity, and extreme weather, I don't think it will be the end of us.

    3) Global Pandemic: Yes, sanitation and medicine have improved dramatically, but population density and increased global connectivity (airplanes) mean diseases will have an easier time spreading.

    4) Asteroids: Will the human race come to an end the same way the dinosaurs did 65 million years ago? Who knows. I'll leave this question to the astronomers and cosmologists.

    5) Super Volcanoes: This has happened before too... and there is one under our feet in Yellowstone National Park just waiting to blow. The eruption/explosion would kill a lot of people instantly, then the ash would block out the sun and poison the food supply for the rest of us. Yay.

    6) Aliens: Or what the scientists in the study refer to as the "unknown unknown." Use your imagination.

    7) Artificial Intelligence (AI): I remember hearing Bill Gates at one point saying he thinks computers and robots will be a threat in the future.

    8) Bad Global Governance: I think this is the most likely scenario. We are seeing it right now all over the world. Leaders continue to cause problems and/or fail to resolve them.

    Good luck to us all.

    Read More

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    Welcome To My Pale Blue Blog!

    Pale Blue Dot

    Hello and welcome to the new blog everyone. For those of you who weren't following me before, I've changed the name of the blog from The Roaming Environmentalist to My Pale Blue Blog. I did this for a few reasons, but mainly because it was time for a change.

    So, what's up with the name?

    The new blog name is a reference to Pale Blue Dot, a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe. The picture was taken from about 4 billion miles away and shows our planet as a tiny dot in the vastness of space. It was taken at the request of Carl Sagan, an astronomer who then wrote the book Pale Blue Dot. The gist? All of human history has occurred on a speck of dust we know as Earth. It is nothing compared to the rest of the universe, and it is the only place we have to live.

    Here is an excerpt from his book:

    Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

    Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

    The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

    It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

    -- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

    Given our planet's insignificance, and therefore my own insignificance, and the insignificance of my blog in a universe of millions of blogs, I thought this name was appropriate. It also means I can write about pretty much anything under the sun-which I prefer. As much as I love environmental science and traveling, I like to know a little about everything rather than everything about one-or a few-topics.

    I'm going with a new look and feel, but there will still be all of the same past, present, and future content.

    I hope you enjoy.

    Read More