Environment Forum

Surprise ending to director’s oil sands visit

James Cameron did not meet expectations with his high-profile visit to Alberta’s oil sands, and that’s probably to the Canadian-born filmmaker’s credit.

An earlier contention by the director of “Titanic” and “Avatar” that development of the massive energy resource was a black eye for Canada had industry supporters in a tizzy.

Surely, his trip to oil sands plants and native communities in the region would be just another example of some celebrity seeking to burnish his green cred without knowing the real story, they said.cameron

On the other side of the emotional debate, some green groups staunchly opposed development expected Cameron to fully side with them. They had trumpeted comparisons between the oil sands and resource extraction portrayed on the fictional planet Pandora in “Avatar.”

In the end, he proved them both wrong.

After his tour this week, he told Reuters he realized the complexities of what is the largest crude deposit outside the Middle East and a major environmental battleground, and that there are no easy answers.

True or false? Online shopping greener than the mall

Mario Gagarin, who works for United Parcel Service, balances packages as he makes deliveries in Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, July 22, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang  Unless you’re in the habit of purchasing bulk orders when you shop online, you can ditch the notion you are helping the environment by skipping a trip to the mall, a recent study has found.

New research by The Institution of Engineering and Technology at Newcastle University in Britain shows online shoppers must order more than 25 items to have any less impact on the environment than traditional shopping due to resources required for shipping and handling.

The study looked at “rebound” effects — or unintended side-effects of policies designed to reduce carbon emissions — of activities that are commonly thought to be green.

Solar-powered Jets

New York Jets players take to the field for their final regular season game at Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, January 3, 2010.  REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

The New York Jets have reached for the brightest star of all – the sun.

On Tuesday, the NFL team announced completion of the largest  solar power system in the National Football League at its headquarters in Florham Park, New Jersey.

The system, made by Yingli Green Energy, is the latest in a series of attempts made by the Chinese solar company to stand out in an increasingly crowded solar space.

Earlier this year, Yingli jostled for space with some of the biggest brands in the world, including McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Budweiser and Emirates during the most anticipated sporting event of the year — the soccer World Cup.

The future of carbon reporting

Liz Logan and Kangos
– Liz Logan is a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Sustainability and Climate Change practice and leads the company’s efforts as adviser to the Carbon Disclosure Project. Doug Kangos is a PwC partner who focuses on assisting companies respond to demands of greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability reporting. Any views expressed here are their own. –

Carbon reporting by U.S.-based companies today has broad similarities to financial reporting before the enactment of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. Just as market forces and regulation evolved then, so too now are we seeing a similar trend.

We expect that within this decade, more companies will regard carbon as significant and will develop and implement increasingly sophisticated and accurate programs to track, manage and report emissions data. And to the extent that carbon emissions are monetized through, for example, a cap-and-trade system, they will become subject to conventional accounting and reporting, with their demands for high levels of accuracy, reliability and timeliness.

Special report: Ten years of oil spills

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The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and subsequent oil leak this summer captured urgent intellectual efforts of leading scientists around the world.

Though it was the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, it was not the first oil spill nor will it be the last.

To date, scientific studies and published reports on the topic number in the hundreds of thousands. After two months of sorting these reports, Thomson Reuters’ Science Watch is releasing their findings in an extensive Special Topic report with the  most influential research on oil spills, from remediation (including dispersants) to bioindicators.  Citation data from January 2000 to June 2010 was approached from various angles, and trends and anomalies emerge handily.

Is biodiversity a washing powder?

biodiversityWorld leaders will hold special talks at the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Wednesday about preserving “biodiversity”. 

That might clear up some misunderstandings — an official involved in negotiating a new U.N. treaty said that some surveys show a worrying number of people reckon it’s a brand of washing powder.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s definition runs: “Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is a term we use to describe the variety of life on Earth. It refers to the wide variety of ecosystems and living organisms: animals, plants, their habitats and their genes.”

The Green Gauge: Shale developers hit speed bumps

A pedestrian walks near a no drilling sign in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania, September 5, 2010. In the rush to develop America's biggest new source of domestic energy, one community is fighting to protect its rural way of life from the environmental strains that accompany shale gas drilling.  REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

Development of shale gas has attracted myriad fans and enemies in recent months: those who cheer a source of natural gas on the home turf of the U.S. and environmentalists who warn the process to release the gas underground risks contaminating drinking water.

This month, Chesapeake Energy, Denbury Resources and Southwest Energy Co. each made headlines for environmental mishaps, and share the top spot in this issue of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies that made headlines Sept. 6 to Sept 19 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

Greens party soars to new heights in Germany

Germany’s Greens party are already the world’s most successful environmental party – having spent seven GERMANY GREENS/years in government of one of the world’s largest economies as junior coalition partners to the centre-left Social Democrats. The Greens wrote Germany’s renewable energy law that helped the country become a major player in wind and solar energy technology between 1998 and 2005 — and the party is chiefly responsible for raising the share of renewable energy to 16 percent of the country’s total electricity consumption.

Although in opposition since 2005, the Greens’ popularity has nevertheless soared to record levels over 20 percent in recent months and the party – which only recently celebrated its 30th anniversary – is doing so well in opinion polls that they could possibly end up heading coalitions in two state elections next year ahead of the SPD in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the city-state of Berlin. 

Pollsters say the Greens are benefitting from an increasing awareness in environmental issues, such as climate change and the public’s opposition to government plans to extend nuclear power in Germany beyond 2021. The Greens are also profiting from voter frustration over broken promises by the ruling parties.

10,000 walruses, ready for their close-up

BELARUS/Zoom! Pan! Swish!  Take a look at a new movie of walruses crowding an Alaska beach — as you’ve never seen them before! Shot from 4,000 feet up in the air, the vast herd of walruses looks like a pile of brown gravel from a distance. (A far different view than the extreme close-up in the still photo at left, which was taken at a zoo in Belarus.)

As the camera in Alaska zooms in, you can see there are thousands of walruses scrambling ashore as the ice floes they normally use as hunting platforms melt away. The video was shot this month at Point Lay, Alaska, and distributed this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s impossible to say how many are on this beach in this movie, but an Arctic scientist at World Wildlife Fund estimates between 10,000 and 20,000 of the tusked marine mammals have hauled themselves onto land in Alaska this year as summer Arctic sea ice shrank to its third-smallest recorded size.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Vladimir Nikolsky (Zoo employee plays with a walrus during celebrations marking the zoo’s 23th birthday in Minsk, Belarus, August 11, 2007)

Jay Leno’s garage: a lot of EVs

The fact that comedian Jay Leno has a serious collection of cars in his 17,000 square-foot-garage in southern California may not surprise fans, but his soft spot for electric and hybrid vehicles most likely will turn a few heads.

In this exclusive interview with GigaOM‘s Green Overdrive crew, the host of “The Tonight Show” opens the door to his solar-powered home for dozens and dozens of cars for an animated tour of his collection, including three cherished vintage electric models from the 1900s.

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