Unilever sets out net-zero plans for shareholder vote

March 25, 2021 by  
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Unilever sets out net-zero plans for shareholder vote Michael Holder Thu, 03/25/2021 – 00:30 Unilever has become one of the first multinational companies in the world to publish a corporate net-zero action plan for oversight by its shareholders, as it prepares to put the climate strategy to an advisory vote at its upcoming AGM in early May. The consumer goods giant this week unveiled its strategy for achieving net-zero emissions across its entire supply chain by 2039 in line with recommendations from climate scientists, with a focus on decarbonizing its heating and cooling, encouraging its suppliers to set science-based targets, and stepping up its broader advocacy work in the run up to the crucial COP26 U.N. Climate Summit later this year. The “climate transition action plan” (CTAP) is set for a non-binding, advisory vote at Unilever’s AGM May 5, with the company also promising to report annually on its progress towards implementing the strategy in line with the guidelines of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFDs). “We will also submit an updated CTAP for an advisory shareholder vote at our AGM every three years, noting any material changes we have made or propose making,” the company said. The Anglo-Dutch firm first announced plans to give its shareholders a direct say over its climate action strategy back in December , in a bid to boost corporate transparency and governance surrounding its drive to reach net-zero emissions for its core business by 2030 and across its entire supply chain by 2039. It is also aiming to eradicate deforestation in its supply chains by 2023, including for commodities such as palm oil, paper, soy, cocoa and tea. We hope that by setting out our plan, and the assumptions underpinning it, investors will share our confidence — and other businesses will start to follow suit. In a blog post explaining the firm’s decision to give its shareholders a say on its sustainability strategy, Unilever CEO Alan Jope said the aim was “to be transparent about our plans, and to strengthen engagement and dialogue with our investors.” “As governments around the world wake up to the full implications of the climate crisis and start to regulate and price emissions, we are confident that early and ambitious climate action will drive superior performance and create value for all our stakeholders,” he wrote earlier this week. “We hope that by setting out our plan, and the assumptions underpinning it, investors will share our confidence — and other businesses will start to follow suit.” Jope also explained Tuesday that achieving net-zero by 2039 would mean ensuring that the emissions associated with Unilever’s products are reduced towards zero “as far as possible, with residual emissions balanced by carbon removals, through either natural technological carbon sequestration such as reforestation or carbon capture and storage.” However, over the next two decades, the company’s primary focus would be on emissions reduction across its value chain, he insisted. “We will not seek to meet our targets through purchasing and retiring carbon credits, known as offsetting,” explained Jope. “By 2039 and thereafter, we will ensure that any residual emissions are balanced with carbon removals to achieve and maintain our net zero position.” In order to deliver its targets, Unilever said its priority was to decarbonize its use of heating and cooling, including removing HFCs — harmful greenhouse gas pollutants — from its refrigerants, having already achieve 100 percent renewable electricity across its business worldwide. It also has set up a $1.18 billion Climate and Nature Fund to help its brands invest in decarbonization and nature protection projects, and the firm aims to increase its investments in plant-based food offerings and harness the influence of its brands to help encourage greener consumer behaviors. We will also call for ambitious goals and actions by both governments and the private sector on key themes like nature-based solutions, finance, and adaptation and resilience. And, in order to slash both upstream and downstream emissions in its value chain, the company said it would work with suppliers to encourage the adoption of their own science-based emissions targets, and to help its logistics partners to shift towards low emission transport options. Unilever also promised to “step up our climate advocacy ahead of COP26,” including though its membership of global industry groups such as the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition and Transform to Net Zero. “We will also call for ambitious goals and actions by both governments and the private sector on key themes like nature-based solutions, finance, and adaptation and resilience,” explained Jope, who argued that leading on climate action “will help Unilever be a more successful business.” “Consumers are becoming more demanding of brands,” he wrote. “Investors are increasingly seeking to build net-zero-aligned portfolios. High-quality talent is seeking employment with purpose-led companies. In this context, we believe that any costs associated with this additional level of ambition represent a wise investment in building our purpose-led, future-fit business, one that will be respected and trusted by future generations as much as it has been by past generations.” Jonathon Porritt, founder and director of corporate sustainability nonprofit Forum for the Future, welcomed the publication of Unilever’s climate transition plan this week as “something of a breakthrough on getting shareholders focused on what companies need to do to get to net zero.” Pull Quote We hope that by setting out our plan, and the assumptions underpinning it, investors will share our confidence — and other businesses will start to follow suit. We will also call for ambitious goals and actions by both governments and the private sector on key themes like nature-based solutions, finance, and adaptation and resilience. Topics Finance & Investing Corporate Strategy Net-Zero BusinessGreen Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Photo by  JHVEPhoto  on Shutterstock.

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Unilever sets out net-zero plans for shareholder vote

The Australian government unveils plan to end plastic pollution

March 15, 2021 by  
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The Australian federal government has launched the  National Plastic Plan , which seeks to deal with plastic pollution in various areas. According to the government, the plan will be aimed at banning single-use plastics on beaches, ending expanded polystyrene packaging and introducing microplastic filters for washing machines. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the plan is that the government intends to bring biodegradable plastic to an end. Most countries that have plastic pollution reduction plans tend to be lenient on biodegradable plastic products. But experts have warned that biodegradable plastic is not any better than regular plastic . The term “biodegradable plastic” is used to mean plastic derived from plant-based materials and is said to be biodegradable after use. It is also often called bioplastic. While some people may think that biodegradable is good, there are no standards that regulate the type of products that can be labeled as biodegradable. Some of these products can take several decades or centuries in landfills before breaking down. Related: Are bioplastics better for the environment or a waste of time? The recently unveiled plan seeks to bring together industry players to forge a way forward in dealing with the problem. Its implementation will lead to the phasing out of “fragmentable” plastic by July 2022. The other area of concern for the Australian government is recyclable plastic. Many companies produce plastics in huge quantities and label them as recyclable. The problem is that only 18% of plastics in Australia are recycled while just 9% of plastics are recycled globally. Recycling plastics is a process that still faces plenty of challenges. First, recycling is very expensive compared to making new plastics from fossil fuels. As a result, most companies prefer investing in fresh plastic. In Australia , the recycling system is well-developed, but it faces challenges of cost and waste separation at residential levels. The National Plastics Plan will also seek to deal with compostable plastic. The Australian government already has regulatory standards and certifications for this type of plastic. Unfortunately, most of the standards only apply to plastics that can be composted within an industrial facility. The plan hopes to help recover more plastic through methods like composting, but the government has yet to outline how it will support specialized collection and composting systems. + National Plastic Plan Via Phys.org Image via Brian Yurasits

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Owls will no longer be exploited for Muggle entertainment

March 15, 2021 by  
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Owls will no longer be forced into show biz in live Harry Potter productions. Thanks to Warner Bros. listening to Tylor Starr, president and co-founder of The Protego Foundation, owls can get back to hunting and leave wizarding to the humans. “We learn in the Harry Potter series that owls are sensitive and remarkably intelligent birds who should be treated with kindness and respect,” Starr said. “They shouldn’t be subjected to loud music, large crowds, and flashing lights.” Related: Harry Potter fans succeed in push for fair trade chocolate treats “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is a show performed at Universal Parks & Resorts locations. In 2014, when the show debuted in Osaka, Japan, owls were featured in the opening ceremonies. The park also tied live owls to a pedestal so people could pose for photos with them. But no more. “The Protego Foundation is thankful to Warner Bros. and the Harry Potter Global Franchise Development team for honoring Hedwig, Errol, and other beloved owls,” Starr added. Hedwig and Errol are two of the many owls who provide postal services for people in the seven-book series. As The Protego Foundation explains on its website, it “fights to end the abuse of the animals in the Muggle world through our inspiration from the magical creatures in the wizarding world.” Its goal is, “A wizarding fandom that is more considerate of the rights, feelings, and treatment of all creatures regardless of species , size, or magical ability.” The group of activists started as The Fwooper Foundation in 2015. A couple of name changes later, members are still encouraging the public to avoid eating animals, wearing animals skins or patronizing live animal acts. Unlike some animal rights groups, Protego puts a friendly, positive spin on its activism. As a thank you to Warner Bros., the foundation is sending the company an enormous box of owl-shaped vegan chocolate. Vegan actress Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, was also jubilant, sharing her praise on Instagram. + Protego Foundation Via VegNews Image via Christel Sagniez

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By 2035, all new cars sold in Massachusetts must be electric

January 5, 2021 by  
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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has released a masterplan for the state that requires all cars produced and sold to be electric come 2035. The plan, dubbed  Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap ,  looks at various factors that contribute to carbon pollution. State administrators noted that cars are major contributors to carbon pollution, and any plan to achieve net-zero emissions must include the eradication of fossil fuel-powered automobiles. In a  press release , the governor highlighted the negative impacts of climate change caused by excessive carbon pollution. “The people of Massachusetts are experiencing record droughts, increased risk of wildfire, severe weather, and flooding in our coastal communities,” Baker said. “The costly impacts of climate change are on display in the Commonwealth, making it critical that we take action.” Related: Solar-powered Lowell Justice Center will be Massachusetts’ first LEED Platinum courthouse Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary, said that achieving net-zero emissions requires efforts from everyone to make the plan successful. “We know that achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050 will require hard work and collaboration across all sectors of the economy,” Theoharides said. The new roadmap “establishes a blueprint that will help us achieve our climate goals in a way that is cost-effective and delivers significant benefits to residents across the Commonwealth, especially those in our most vulnerable communities.” In the report, which was released on December 31, the state has identified key areas of concern to help reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Besides turning to electric cars, the report also outlines a shift from a fossil fuel grid to a renewable energy grid. According to the report, data indicates that low-income homes in the state do not have access to air conditioning as compared to more affluent homes. The plan looks at increasing temperatures due to climate change and notes that all homes will require clean energy to facilitate home air conditioning. Another area of focus will be new buildings. The state plans to prevent emissions from all upcoming buildings with improved building codes and construction policies. Massachusetts now becomes one of the few states with a clear roadmap toward net-zero emissions . However, the bulk of the work still lies in the implementation of the plan. + Mass.gov Via Clean Technica Image via David Mark

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Bali’s beaches are covered in plastic waste

January 5, 2021 by  
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People come from all over the world to see Bali’s famous white sand beaches. But lately, you can’t see the sand underneath the tons of plastic waste washing ashore. And it’s getting worse. Coastlines around the world are groaning under the weight of plastic trash. “It’s not new and it’s not surprising and it happens every year, and it’s been growing over the last decade,” said Denise Hardesty , plastic pollution expert and principal research scientist at Australia’s CSIRO science agency. “But in monsoonal countries we do find a much stronger seasonal affect.” Related: Surfing trip leads to 4Ocean cleaning coastlines around the world When monsoons blow west to east each year, plastic waste especially piles up on southwestern Bali , which is right where Kuta and Legian are. Kuta Beach has long been known as party central to sun-loving visitors. Legian is a renowned beach and popular surf spot. Together, the two beaches receive up to 60 tons of incoming plastic trash per day. Every day, crews of workers go out and rake the beaches. However, the trash still has to go somewhere. “The biggest problem is actually the trash handling hasn’t been effective in Indonesia,” said Gede Hendrawan of Bali’s Udayana University. “Bali has just started to reorganize it, also Java has just started.” Java is the island directly to the west of Bali and is one of the more than 17,500 islands that compose the archipelago of Indonesia. Wayan Koster, governor of Bali, has emphasized how important it is to keep the island’s beaches clean. “The Badung administration should have a trash handling system at Kuta Beach that is complete with adequate equipment and human resources so they can work quickly to clean up the trash washed onto the beach,” Koster said. “Moreover, in the rainy season when there are tourists visiting, the trash handling systems should be working 24 hours a day. Don’t wait for tomorrow.” CSIRO is planning to use remote cameras and artificial intelligence to get a better grip on littering hotspots in Bali. But as Hardesty pointed out, the real culprit in the problem of plastic washing up on Bali’s shores is the continuing increase in global plastic production. Via The Guardian Image via Ocean Cleanup Group

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Bali’s beaches are covered in plastic waste

Vincent Callebaut proposes a green, food-producing footbridge for Paris

January 5, 2021 by  
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Vincent Callebaut Architectures has unveiled fantastical designs for the Green Line, a futuristic “inhabited footbridge” in Paris that would run on renewable energy, recycle its own waste and fight urban air pollution all while producing 87,500 kilograms of fresh fruits and vegetables every year. The ambitious proposal was created as an entry in the Reinventing Cities – C40 international design competition hosted by Ceetrus. The Green Line design spans the River Seine between the 12th and 13th arrondissements in Paris and aims to better connect the Bercy Village to the Masséna district. Conceived as an antidote to urban pollution, the carbon-neutral Green Line seeks to reinvigorate the city with its nature-inspired design. In addition to a lush planting plan that includes urban agriculture and carbon-sequestering woody plants, the garden footbridge also features an eye-catching, double-arched structure that takes inspiration from a fish skeleton. The biomimetic bridge is engineered for phased construction so as to minimize disturbance to local residents. Related: Vincent Callebaut unveils bioclimatic LEED-Gold timber tower The Green Line features a variety of garden types; however, its primary focus is on an edible landscape with participatory greenhouses on its panoramic rooftop. The scheme proposes a total of 3,500 square meters of vegetable gardens and orchards — with edible, native species — to help raise awareness of eco-gastronomy and the Slow Food movement. The fruits and vegetables grown on the footbridge would be harvested for use in restaurants and classrooms on the bridge.  Following principles of self-sufficiency, the footbridge proposal features 3,000 square meters of hybrid rooftop solar panels to power the facilities and restaurants on the bridge; 56 axial magnetically levitated wind turbines that power the bridge’s lighting fixtures; and a biogas plant integrated in the cells of the bridge that converts the non-edible parts of plants and organic waste into heat and electrical energy.  + Vincent Callebaut Architectures Images via Vincent Callebaut Architectures

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Freedom Cove: an off-grid floating homestead at one with nature

January 5, 2021 by  
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Off the coast of Tofino, British Columbia, floats a forested, eco-fairyland of greenhouses, ramps, towers and small buildings, most of them painted fuchsia and teal. It’s the innovative and whimsical off-grid project of two artists, Catherine King and Wayne Adams. King and Adams began constructing Freedom Cove in 1992. They did most of the work themselves, building four greenhouses, an art gallery, dance floor (adorned with an enormous painted lotus flower) and lighthouse, all on 12 connecting platforms. At different times in Freedom Cove’s evolution, they’ve harnessed solar power with photovoltaic panels or used a generator. Water comes from rain and a nearby waterfall. Related: Christophe Caranchini proposes resilient floating houses for Kiribati King is a dancer, painter, wood carver and writer; Adams is a sculptor who carves wood and fossilized ivory and mammoth tusks. They support themselves by selling their artwork and greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables . Fishing also provides much of their diet. This paradise off Vancouver Island may look idyllic to people fantasizing about off-grid living. But Freedom Cove took a huge amount of imagination and experience to build, and it requires a lot of work to keep running. Especially when you think about raising two children here, which King and Adams did. You have to be tough and self-sufficient to live where the nearest town is 45 minutes by boat. Fortunately, they installed internet on Freedom Cove, so King was able to take time away from her vegetables, artistry and myriad other tasks necessary to run a floating homestead to answer a few questions in an interview with Inhabitat. Inhabitat: Okay, basic physics question — how does it float? King:  Our system floats on armored. That is, covered with PVC plastic blocks. That is what makes everything float. Inhabitat: What are your favorite things about living at Freedom Cove? King:  Living in Freedom Cove is special as I am in nature . There is nature all around me. There is peace, quiet. I get to live my life according to the rhythms of nature. I am inspired by nature to be creative. This keeps me whole and healthy mentally, emotionally and spiritually. These are my favorite reasons for loving life here. We have learned to do things by figuring them out ourselves by living off-grid. We have been allowed to think for ourselves about everything. We have been given the opportunity to really be in touch with our inner selves … really live life from this place, create our outer life from our true authentic inner natures. Inhabitat: How do you interact with people on the mainland? King:  We are people people and interact with everyone well. People have come to visit us from all over the planet and we enjoy all those interactions. We have internet since 2013 and that has added to our communication with family and friends. Prior to that, I wrote letters to everyone. Inhabitat: Could you tell us a little about how you developed relationships with your animal neighbors? What have you learned from them? King:  We have a good relationship with all the animals around us. The bears walk all around us on low tide, and we have never had an issue with them as we don’t leave anything out that would smell and attract them over to us. Otters, mink, martins, seals go about their lives around us and we enjoy their presence … the otters and seals have even stuck their heads up in our plexiglass square in the floor we have in our living room while they are chasing fish. The fish see us as a protective floating island they can hide under and reproduce under. The water birds swim all around us, and the crows, gulls and buffleheads come to our back window for bread. They enjoy us being here as much as we enjoy them. We enhance nature by our presence. It is a symbiotic relationship. Inhabitat: Tell us about the Freedom Cove Tofino boat tour. King:  While COVID-19 is happening, tours are shut down. Hopefully the spring will open things up again. Browning Passage (250-726-8605), Tofino Water Taxi (250-725-8844) and our son Shane Adams (email us to reach him, freedomcove4@gmail.com) will all bring people out to us. The tour of our place is given by us and is an hour. We ask $10 per person for a donation. We are open for tours (outside of COVID-19) from June to October, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shane asks $150 return trip for the half hour each way boat ride for one person and $25 more for two people and 50 more for three people. People should phone the other companies listed for their costs. They can take more than three people. Inhabitat: Do you rent out space so visitors can spend the night at Freedom Cove? King:  We do not rent space for accommodations. + Freedom Cove Photography by Aaron Mason

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Trump administration furthers Arctic drilling plan

August 19, 2020 by  
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The Trump administration’s environmental protection rollbacks seem to now come daily. Today’s bad news? A plan to allow  oil  and gas companies to drill in Alaska’s so-far pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2017, a Republican tax bill opened part of the refuge to gas and oil leasing. Monday’s development pushed the plan further, aiming to sell the first drilling leases by the end of 2020. Many Republicans back the plan, despite opposition from environmental groups and Alaska’s Indigenous communities. Related: EPA loosens restrictions on methane emissions The over 19 million-acre refuge has long remained off-limits to development. Managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, most of the refuge is true wilderness, free from roads, trails and facilities, and open to the public for exploration. The few travelers who visit access the refuge by private planes and air taxis. Visitors may witness the Polar and grizzly bears , wolves, wolverines, caribou, beluga whales, musk oxen and walruses that call this area home. Though wildlife outnumbers people here, both the Gwich’in and Iñupiat people reside on and live off resources from the land.  Sometimes calling themselves “caribou people,” the Gwich’in have based their culture around these reindeer for centuries. The Gwich’in live in 15 villages across northeast  Alaska  and northwest Canada and have actively fought against gas and oil leasing. David Smith, a Gwich’in leader in Arctic Village, worries that the industries will harm caribou and change his nation’s way of life. “I would say this is like no other place on earth, so we shouldn’t be treated like any other place on earth,” Smith said in an interview with  Alaska Public Media . “I can drive in any direction and  hunt  freely. I can drive in any direction and go trapping.” Despite the recent news, the fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues. Still, environmental groups say that once companies buy drilling rights, it will be harder for future presidents to stop  Arctic  drilling. “The Trump administration never stops pushing to drill in the Arctic Refuge — and we will never stop suing them,” said Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “America has safeguarded the refuge for decades, and we will not allow the administration to strip that protection away now.” Via Thomson Reuters Foundation Image via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

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Trump administration furthers Arctic drilling plan

World’s highest temperature, 130F, recorded in Death Valley

August 19, 2020 by  
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On Sunday, August 16, the U.S. National Weather Service recorded the highest temperature reading ever on Earth in Death Valley, California . High temperatures in Death Valley are the norm, but the new high beats previous temperature records and is sounding the alarm on global warming. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature of 130°F (54.5°C) is still awaiting verification after it was recorded by weather monitoring equipment in the area. The occurrence of the highest temperature in Death Valley coincides with a heatwave on the West Coast. The National Weather Service has predicted that the temperatures here are expected to rise further within the week, but the heatwave has already had a devastating impact in California. Residents are experiencing days of blackouts, because the heat is believed to have caused damage to power supply equipment. Related: Global warming to cause more deaths than all infectious diseases Brandi Stewart, who lives and works at the Death Valley National Park , spends most of her time indoors during the month of August each year. The temperatures in the valley can get to unbearable levels this month, and the new record is not a surprise to the residents. “When you walk outside it’s like being hit in the face with a bunch of hairdryers,” Stewart told BBC . “You feel the heat and it’s like walking into an oven and the heat is just all around you.” Before this record, the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 129.2°F (54°C). The former highest temperature reading was also recorded in Death Valley in 2013 and has remained unchanged until Sunday. However, there are disputes about a higher reading that was recorded a century ago. The 1913 record of 134°F (56.6°C) in the Death Valley has been widely disputed and is not officially recognized. There have also been other questionable previous high temperature records that surpass the Sunday reading. Besides the disputed 1913 Death Valley reading, a 1931 record of 131°F (55°C) in Tunisia was also been under scrutiny. If the latest Death Valley reading is verified by the National Weather Service, it will be officially recognized as the highest temperature ever recorded. Via BBC Image via Jplenio

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World’s highest temperature, 130F, recorded in Death Valley

The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

August 3, 2020 by  
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The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis Maddie Stone Mon, 08/03/2020 – 01:00 This story originally appeared in Grist and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. One of the starkest inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic is the difference between the digital haves and have-nots. Those with a fast internet connection are more able to work and learn remotely, stay in touch with loved ones and access critical services such as telemedicine. For the millions of Americans who live in an internet dead zone , fully participating in society in the age of social distancing has become difficult, if not impossible. But if the pandemic has laid bare America’s so-called “digital divide,” climate change will only worsen the inequality that stems from it. As the weather grows more extreme and unpredictable, wealthy urban communities with faster, more reliable internet access will have an easier time responding to and recovering from disasters, while rural and low-income Americans — already especially vulnerable to the impacts of a warming climate — could be left in the dark. Unless, that is, we can bring everyone’s internet up to speed, which is what Democratic lawmakers on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis are hoping to do. Buried in a sweeping, 538-page climate change plan the committee released last month is a call to expand and modernize the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure in order to prepare it, and vulnerable communities around the country, for future extreme weather events and climate disruptions. The plan calls for increasing broadband internet access nationwide with the goal of getting everyone connected, updating the country’s 911 emergency call systems and ensuring cellular communications providers are able to keep their networks up and running amid hurricane-force winds and raging wildfires. This plan isn’t the first to point out that America’s internet infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade , but it is unusual to see lawmakers frame better internet access as an important step toward building climate resilience. While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal.   To Jim Kessler , executive vice president for policy at the moderate public policy think tank Third Way, this framing makes perfect sense. “You’ve got to build resilience into communities but also people,” Kessler said. “And you can’t do this without people having broadband and being connected digitally.” While the internet is often described as a great equalizer , access to the web never has been equal. High-income people have faster internet access than low-income people, urban residents are more connected than rural ones, and whiter counties are more likely to have broadband than counties with more Black and Brown residents. We’re not just talking about a few digital stragglers being left behind: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that more than 18 million Americans lack access to fast broadband, which the agency defines as a 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. Monica Anderson , who studies the digital divide at Pew Research Center, says that many more Americans have broadband access in their area but don’t subscribe because it’s too expensive. “What we see time and again is the cost is prohibitive,” Anderson said. A lack of broadband reduces opportunities for people in the best of times, but it can be crippling in wake of a disaster, making it difficult or impossible to apply for aid or access recovery resources. Puerto Ricans experienced this in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which battered the island’s telecommunications infrastructure and left many residents with terminally slow broadband more than a year after the storm had passed. Three years later, with a global pandemic moving vast swaths of the economy online for the foreseeable future, internet-impoverished communities around the country are feeling a similar strain . To some extent, mobile networks have helped bridge the broadband gap in recent years. More than 80 percent of Americans own a smartphone, with similar rates of ownership among Black, white and Hispanic Americans. Nearly 40 percent of Americans access the internet primarily from a phone. As far as disaster resilience goes, this surge in mobile adoption is good news: Our phones allow us to receive emergency alerts and evacuation orders quickly, and first responders rely on them to coordinate on the fly. Of the 240 million 911 calls made every year, more than 80 percent come from a wireless device, per the FCC . But in the age of climate change, mobile networks are becoming more vulnerable. The cell towers, cables and antennas underpinning them weren’t always built to withstand worsening fires and storms, a vulnerability that Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have all acknowledged in recent climate change disclosures filed with the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). And when these networks go down — as nearly 500 cell towers did during California’s Camp and Woolsey fires in 2018, according to the new House climate change plan — it can create huge challenges for emergency response. “Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet,” said Samantha Montano , an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “We’re pretty reliant on them.” Democrats’ new climate plan seeks to address many problems created by unequal and unreliable internet access in order to build a more climate-hardy web and society. To help bring about universal broadband access, the plan recommends boosting investment in FCC programs such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund , a $20 billion fund earmarked for broadband infrastructure deployments across rural America. It also calls for increased investment in programs such as the FCC’s Lifeline , which offers government-subsidized broadband to low-income Americans, and it recommends mandating that internet service providers suspend service shutoffs for 60 days in the wake of declared emergencies. Broadband improvements should be prioritized in underserved communities “experiencing or are likely to experience disproportionate environmental and climate change impacts,” per the plan. As far as mobile networks go, House Democrats recommend that Congress authorize states to set disaster resilience requirements for wireless providers as part of their terms of service. They also recommend boosting federal investments in Next Generation 911 , a long-running effort to modernize America’s 911 emergency call systems and connect thousands of individually operating systems. Finally, the plan calls for the FCC to work with wireless providers to ensure their networks don’t go offline during disasters for reasons unrelated to equipment failure, citing Verizon’s infamous throttling of data to California firefighters as they were fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018. Kessler of Third Way said that Democrats’ climate plan lays out “the right ideas” for bridging the digital divide. “You want to be able to get the technology out there, the infrastructure out there, and you need to make sure people can pay for it,” he said. The call for hardening our internet infrastructure is especially salient to Paul Barford , a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 2018, Barford and two colleagues published a study highlighting the vulnerability of America’s fiber cables to sea level rise, and he’s investigating how wildfires threaten mobile networks. In both cases, he says, it’s clear that the telecommunications infrastructure deployed today was designed with historical extreme conditions in mind — and that has to change. “We’re living in a world of climate change,” he said. “And if the intention is to make this new infrastructure that will serve the population for many years to come, then it is simply not feasible to deploy it without considering the potential effects of climate change, which include, of course, rising seas, severe weather, floods and wildfires.” Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet.   Whether the House climate plan’s recommendations become law remains to be seen. Many specific ideas in the plan already have been introduced to Congress in various bills, including the LIFT America Act , which would infuse Next Generation 911 with an extra $12 billion in funding, and the WIRED Act , which would authorize states to regulate wireless companies’ infrastructure. Perhaps most significantly, House Democrats recently passed an infrastructure bill that would invest $80 billion in broadband deployment around the country overseen by a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. The bill would mandate a minimum speed standard of 100/100 megabits per second for federally funded internet projects, a speed stipulation that can be met only with high-speed fiber optics, says Ernesto Omar Falcon , a senior legal counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties nonprofit. Currently, Falcon estimates that about a third of Americans have access to this advanced internet infrastructure, with a larger swath of the country accessing the web via older, slower, DSL copper or cable lines. “It would connect anyone who doesn’t have internet to a 21st century line,” Falcon said. “That’s a huge deal.” The infrastructure bill seems unlikely to move forward in a Republican-controlled Senate. But the urgency of getting everyone a fast, resilient internet connection isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the idea that internet access is a basic right seems to be gaining traction every day, even making an appearance last week in presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan . With the pandemic continuing to transform how we work, live and interact with one another, and with climate change necessitating even larger transformations in the future, our need to be connected digitally is only becoming greater. “I think every day the pressure mounts, because the problem is not going away,” Falcon said. “It’s really going to come down to what we want the recovery to look like. And which of the problems COVID-19 has presented us with do we want to solve.” Pull Quote While the internet is often described as a great equalizer, access to the web never has been equal. Everything from search-and-rescue efforts to sending out warnings to getting people directions to shelters is facilitated through various telecommunications and internet. Topics Climate Change Policy & Politics Social Justice Technology Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Worker on the site of an ecological disaster.

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The digital divide worsens the inequitable impacts of the climate crisis

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