Climate Change and Sustainable Development: A Perfect Fit


According to the latest IPCC Synthesis Report there is a clear human influence on the climate system. The “unequivocal warming” can be seen very well over the last three decades, which have been warmed successively. The effects of this human induced climate destabilization can be seen in the present and are projected to worsen over time, regardless of the level of carbon emitted into the future. This does not mean that global and regional systems should not be overhauled to reduce carbon emissions. A rapid decrease in emissions is necessary to avert further warming of the planet and changes in the climate system. As the various effects of the shifting climate are being seen now, it can be clear that a level of dangerous climate change has been reached, although not threatening on a global scale. In order to ensure the perpetuity of our species in conditions that are not life threatening, a new development pattern must be adopted. The old way, some may say the “dirty way,” is no longer feasible. No longer may we dig up energy reserves that were sequestered over millions of years and burn them in a matter of hours. This is not as sustainable as once was thought. The planet is telling us that we must radically shift the way we build, develop, live, connect, move, eat, recreate, etc.

Sustainable development is a young notion, but a powerful one. Around it, is a conversation that attempts to unite every person on the planet in the hopes that we all might work together to further our species. Climate change fits into this conversation very well. Results of unsustainable development, the effects of climate change are a huge risk to the safety of our species. It however lends itself nicely to sustainable development. While posing significant threats to the stability of society, it is a driving force of this newfound development scheme. With changes in line with sustainable development, great gains in living conditions can be seen.

Wedding photos from a smog-day in Beijing, China. Source:
Wedding photos from a smog-day in Beijing, China. Source:

In looking at the driver of climate change, fossil fuels, an obvious need for doing away with all fossil fuels can be seen.
Just as important to look at though, are the public health benefits that come from reducing the burning of fossil fuels. Smog and airborne particulate matter are a huge health risk all over the world, from the smog filled skies of Beijing to the United States, where in 2013 118 of the 231 counties in the United States exceeded the EPA’s allowed level of ozone.[1] These dangers are a direct result of burning fossil fuels. Switching to power-generation systems that do not emit will not only slow global warming, it will directly save lives and promote healthier activities.

The alleviation of poverty is one of the United Nation’s direct responsibilities.[2] Taking a look at poverty one will find that about 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity.[3] One solution to this would be to build large centralized coal plants, which would be the centers of massive electricity transportation networks. This inefficient and unsustainable system is currently in place in much of the developed world. However other solutions exist. There has been a great deal of work done on the link between renewable energy and poverty alleviation. Not only studying the prospects, but actual tangible change. For instance in India, Project Chirag is bringing light to rural villages across the nation and it is being done with the use of solar panels and batteries.

Effect of electricity on poverty. Source:


Climate change has been described as the biggest challenge our species has ever faced. And a challenge it is, altering the way nature of the planet that humans have grown up in. Why look at climate change merely as a challenge? The notion that by 2100 fossil fuels must be phased out and renewable grids in place is just incredible. A recent study estimates, with an 80% chance, that the projected population by 2100 will range between 9.6 and 12.3 billion. They will all need electricity, food, water, and space. Developing for sustainability is the only option if we want to be sure that this population will be able to live safely and without struggle. Using climate change as a tool, rather than looking at it simply as challenge, to make the world a better place seems like a reasonable way to ensure that type of development.




Works Cited

“Bodies, History, Visits, Employment, Address, Members, Budget, Information.” UN News Center. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.


“Can Renewable Electricity Reduce Poverty? – Institute of Development Studies.” 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 2

Nov. 2014.


“Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report, Longer Report.” Intergovernmental Panel on Cliamte Change.

November 1, 2014.


Gerland, Patrick, Adrian E. Raftery, Hana Sevcikova, Nan Li, Danan Gu, Thomas Spoorenberg, and John

Wilmoth, et al. 2014. “World population stabilization unlikely this century.” Science no. 6206: 234.


Resutek, Audrey. “Study: Cutting Emissions Pays for Itself.” MIT News. 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 2 Nov.






Trick or Treat? The truth about Halloween candy

Lets face it, Halloween is all about the candy! Every October, Americans spend at least $2 Billion dollars on Halloween candy. However, what most people don’t realize is that the environmental impact of these sweet treats is actually a trick. Here is the low down on Halloween candy, and how you can avoid the tricks and enjoy more treats.

Palm oil, a type of edible vegetable oil grown specifically in tropical climates, is an extremely versatile cooking oil that, among many other household items, is also found in candies. Palm oil is inexpensive and can be found in “50 percent of items found in supermarkets” (Donlon, 2014). This global commodity is extremely popular and production rates are doubling. So what is the problem with palm oil? Palm oil is a driving force of deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions, which are all contributing factors to climate change. Large areas of tropical forests have been destroyed throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa in order to clear land for palm plantations. This process of deforestation has several impacts on the environment. The process of clearing the land involves slash and burn agriculture, which is the deliberate burning down of forests. This burning results in habitat loss and species disruption, which in some cases is leading to extinction. The clearing of the land also makes it easier for poachers to capture and sell wildlife. Orangoutangs are often targeted by poachers. Not only does this impact wildlife, but also it releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, thus altering the concentrations of greenhouse gasses. This is just one aspect that shows the unsustainable side of Halloween.

Read further on sustainable chocolate!

This Halloween be “HalloGREEN” and refrain from consuming candies containing palm oil!

See how to enjoy Halloween treats without destroying the planet here!

Find more information about Palm Oil and how to get involved!! 

Happy HalloGREEN !!



Donlon, Diana. “Trick or Treat? The Frightening Climate Costs of Halloween Candy.” The Huffington Post., 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

Whither China and Climate Change at COP 20?

My first exposure to China’s climate policy position was at COP 17 in Durban, So. Africa. There I asked a Chinese delegate if shale gas would be in the mix of transition fuels to wean China off coal in order to ameliorate the air pollution which continues to be a major contributor to a growing public health problem in eastern China.  His response was that shale gas was a minor resource in China and that coal would continue to be a major player in energy production. Clearly the implication was that China was not interested in resolving the air pollution that chokes major cities as much as the continuation of the pace of economic development that was rapidly bring China into the 21st century as a developed nation.  This was not what I was hoping for at a climate change conference.

What a difference three years makes!  Since COP 17 and over the past year I have spent a month  exploring Yunnan Province in southwestern China looking at sustainability efforts through  alternative energy and climate change effects on agriculture and water availability.  While you see  the reason their CO2 emissions are so high (construction of high rises with no tenants, multi-lane highways to small towns, and long rail and highway overpasses to avoid farmers fields and the energy needed to build all this) even in the relatively cleaner western parts of China, there is a sense that this pace of development is not sustainable if for not other reason then the environmental degradation it is causing to some very beautiful landscapes. Moreover a lingering drought has this mostly agrarian part of China reeling from lack of rain especially for rice production.  Climate change may be taking hold and the Chinese sense it.

So what has changed?  While we are not sure exactly what the China’s strategy will be, it is clear they want to slow the use of coal to improve the air quality of the major cities at the very least.  We saw lots of reasons to believe that alternative, non-fossil fuel energy is being used especially at the personal level.  In the large cities and small villages as well solar hot water is the name of the game.  In Kunming, the provincial capital, every rooftop has a solar water heater; even apartment buildings string a dozen or two water heaters together to supply all the tenants.  Biogas has become a staple of rural energy life in place of burning scare wood.  And government officials at the local level are encouraging these changes.

So what can we expect from the Chinese at COP 20 where they will be even a bigger player in the negotiations than they were in Durban?  It is hard to know as one is never quite sure what they will come up with and how they will approach climate change mitigation now.  But from talking to the people in Yunnan province including the scientists doing biomass and solar heating research it appears that the Chinese are beginning to see the value of slowing development, encouraging well established alternative energy sources at the local level, and becoming more concerned about a pending public health crisis in their megacities.  Will the Chinese find a way  not only to play nice with the other “kids” in Lima but also be a positive influence in solving global emissions problems? Stay tuned.

Solar water heaters for home use are ubiquitous in southwestern China including the most rural areas
Solar water heaters for home use are ubiquitous in southwestern China including the most rural areas