Environment Forum

The Beer-Water Nexus

Does the path to clean, safe water lead through a brewery?

Andy Wales, head of sustainable development at global brewer SABMiller, maintains it can happen.  The maker of Miller beer — and 20 other brands, from Aguila in Colombia to Zolotaya Bochka Klassicheskoye in Russia — likes the environmental angle, but the main impetus is to ensure production of their products in what is a highly variable business from location to location.

“Water is obviously a critical part of high quality beer,” Wales said by telephone from London. One important part of this equation is figuring out how to use less water and still make good beer.

What this means in practice is working with groups like World Wildlife Fund and GIZ, a German organization that coordinates international development and sustainable development efforts. It also means recognizing the potential for water scarcity and the need for conservation. The four countries seen as having the biggest long-term water risk are South Africa, Ukraine, Tanzania and Peru, Wales said.

“The goal is to reduce our water use per liter of beer by 25 percent by 2015 over a 2008 base,” Wales said. “So that’s from 4.6 liters per liter of beer to 3.5 liters by 2015. Water efficiency’s a big part of our operations everywhere.”

What does this have to do with making good beer? In South Africa, beer-making hops grow in the George region of the Eastern Cape — an area where weather patterns are shifting due to climate change. To keep the hops growing and beer flowing, SABMiller worked with a government scientific research organization called CSIR to understand risks to that watershed, and risks to the supply of water for irrigation of hops.

Mail a letter, save a tiger?

If the world gets saved one small act at a time, the U.S. Postal Service and the Wildlife Conservation Society may be onto something. They’ve just unveiled a new stamp that aims to make protection of endangered species as easy as mailing a letter.

The new Save Vanishing Species stamp costs 55 cents, 11 cents more than a regular first class stamp. It features the face of a tiger cub, and net proceeds contribute to projects supported by the Multinational Species Conservation Funds, which are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These projects work to conserve tigers, rhinos, great apes, marine turtles and African and Asian elephants.

There is no impact on U.S. taxpayers, and it is the fourth so-called semipostal issue by the Postal Service.  The stamps should be available in September at post offices and at Wildlife Conservation Society parks.

Enviro-word of the moment: Anthropocene

A word has entered the language — at least, the language of environmental concern — that may be ready for prime-time. That word is Anthropocene. It’s the epoch we’re apparently living in, roughly translated as the Age of Man. The theory behind the name is that human beings have made such an impact on Earth’s geology that we should have an era named for us that differentiates this time from the tired old Holocene period.

Holocene means “entirely new,” but it’s been some 10,000 years since it started. Scientists and others meeting in London figure it may be time to move on.

In a note about their meeting at The Geological Society, they ask: “Has humanity’s impact on the Earth been so significant that it defines a new geological epoch? In the blink of a geological eye, through our need for energy, food, water, minerals, for space in which to live and play, we have wrought changes to Earth’s environment and life that are as significant as any known in the geological record.”

Did human activities cause the Mississippi River flood?

As the Mississippi River crested at near-record levels near Memphis, Tennessee, a nagging question surfaced at a Capitol Hill briefing: are people to blame? According to one expert on water and hydrology, the answer is closer to yes than no.

“I’m not suggesting these (floods) are caused by climate change, but there’s very clear scientific evidence that the risk of flooding on the Mississippi River is increasing because of human influence,” said Peter Gleick, president of the California-based Pacific Institute.

Human influence comes in at least two ways, Gleick told a briefing that drew congressional staff and personnel from U.S. agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (You can see the briefing slides here.) First, the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels — cars, factories, power plants — loads the atmosphere with climate-warming greenhouse gas, pushing global mean temperatures higher.

Cows, climate change and the high court

FRANCE/If you took all the cows in the United States and figured out how much greenhouse gas they emit, would you be able to sue all the farmers who own them?

That interesting legal question came from Justice Antonin Scalia during Supreme Court oral arguments about whether an environmental case against five big U.S. power companies can go forward.

At issue is whether six states can sue the country’s biggest coal-fired electric utilities to make them cut down on the climate-warming carbon dioxide they emit. One lower court said they couldn’t, an appeals court said they could and now the high court will consider where the case will go next. A ruling should come by the end of June.

John Kerry has had it up to HERE with “The Flat Earth Caucus”

ISRAEL/You remember John Kerry, right? Tall, silver-haired, urbane enough to be accused of being French. But there’s a feisty side to the senior senator from Massachusetts, and it was on display at a forum on energy and economic growth, where Kerry teed off on congressional Republicans and others who doubt the seriousness of the challenge of climate change.

“After a while you get exasperated and jaded and frustrated about it all,” Kerry told The New Republic forum at the National Press Club. “I’ve had it just about up to here with America’s indifference to the realities of this crisis … the United States is like an ostrich putting its head in the sand.”

How do you feel about the U.S. political establishment, Senator Kerry? “I don’t know what’s happened to us in the body politic of this country where facts and science seem to be so easily shunted aside and disposed of in favor of simple sloganeering, pure ideology and little bromides of politics that are offered up, that offer no solution to anything but might get you through an election.”

from The Great Debate UK:

The safest form of power: Everything in moderation

By Morven McCulloch

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan, seriously damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has led to anti-nuclear protests in several countries and forced governments to rethink their energy policies.

The UK currently has 10 nuclear power stations, representing 18 percent of the country’s energy supply according to Energy UK. Should British Prime Minister David Cameron, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reverse his position on the safety of nuclear power?

Environment and climate scientist Lord Julian Hunt told Reuters in a video interview that although the situation at the Fukushima plant is an “extremely serious event,” there are risks to consider with every type of power.

from Reuters Investigates:

Is a 10 percent chance of disaster too high for a nuclear power station?

JAPAN-QUAKE/Kevin Krolicki has another alarming special report from Japan today challenging the assertion that the disaster facing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was beyond expections.

The report quotes Tokyo Electric's own researchers who did a study in 2007 on the risk of tsunamis: 

The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

Amazon’s drought, seen from space

AMAZON/DROUGHTHow green is the Amazon?

Not as green as it used to be, as shown in an analysis of satellite images made during last year’s record-breaking drought.

Because greenness is an indication of health in the Amazon, a decline in this measurement means this vast area is getting less healthy — bad news for biodiversity and some native peoples in the region.

What does a drop in the greenness index look like? It looks gold, orange and red in a graphic accompanying an article to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters:

from Photographers' Blog:

A global view of Earth Hour

The world turned off its lights on March 26 for an hour from 8.30 p.m. local time as a show of support for tougher action to confront climate change.

A global celebration of Earth Hour 2011 from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

I was given the assignment to not only photograph the event from Taipei, Taiwan, but to produce a multimedia video that showcased the world's landmarks without lights as part of the fifth annual Earth Hour.

The Taipei 101 building is seen before Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011.  REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Taipei 101 building is seen during Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Reuters online team in Toronto and I had decided to produce a video to illustrate the event with pictures by our photographers around the world. The idea was to fade before pictures with the lights turned on into the exact same image without the lights on.

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