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Global Is the New Local: Pollution Changes Clouds, Climate Downstream 0

By Carol Rasmussen
NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Aerosol emission and transport, 9/1/06 to 4/10/07. Also included are locations, indicated by red and yellow dots, of wildfires and human-initiated burning. Via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The residents of Beijing and Delhi are not the only ones feeling the effects of Asian air pollution — an unwanted byproduct of coal-fired economic development. The continent’s tainted air is known to cross the Pacific Ocean, adding to homegrown air-quality problems on the U.S. West Coast.

But unfortunately, pollution doesn’t just pollute. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, both in Pasadena, California, are looking at how Asian pollution is changing weather and climate around the globe.

Scientists call airborne particles of any sort — human-produced or natural — aerosols. The simplest effect of increasing aerosols is to increase clouds. To form clouds, airborne water vapor needs particles on which to condense. With more aerosols, there can be more or thicker clouds. In a warming world, that’s good. Sunlight bounces off cloud tops into space without ever reaching Earth’s surface, so we stay cooler under cloud cover.

But that simplest effect doesn’t always happen. If there’s no water vapor in the air — the air is dry — aerosols can’t make clouds. Different types of aerosols have different effects, and the same aerosol can have different effects depending on how much is in the air and how high it is. Soot particles at certain altitudes can cause cloud droplets to evaporate, leaving nothing but haze. At other altitudes, soot can cause clouds to be deeper and taller, producing heavy thunderstorms or hailstorms. With so many possibilities, aerosols are one of the largest sources of uncertainty in predicting the extent of future climate change.

The experiments and result

During the last 30 years, clouds over the Pacific Ocean have grown deeper, and storms in the Northwest Pacific have become about 10 percent stronger. This is the same time frame as the economic boom in Asia. JPL researcher Jonathan Jiang and his postdoctoral fellow, Yuan Wang, designed a series of experiments to see if there was a connection between the two phenomena.

They used a numerical model that included weather factors such as temperature, precipitation and barometric pressure over the Pacific Ocean as well as aerosol transport — the movement of aerosols around the Earth. They did two sets of simulations. The first used aerosol concentrations thought to have existed before the Industrial Revolution. The other used current aerosol emissions. The difference between the two sets showed the effects of increased pollution on weather and climate.

“We found that pollution from China affects cloud development in the North Pacific and strengthens extratropical cyclones,” said Wang. These large storms punctuate U.S. winters and springs about once a week, often producing heavy snow and intense cold.

Wang explained that increased pollution makes more water condense onto aerosols in these storms. During condensation, energy is released in the form of heat. That heat adds to the roiling upward and downward airflows within a cloud so that it grows deeper and bigger.

“Large, convective weather systems play a very important role in Earth’s atmospheric circulation,” Jiang said, bringing tropical moisture up to the temperate latitudes. The storms form about once a week between 25 and 50 degrees north latitude and cross the Pacific from the southwest to the northeast, picking up Asia’s pollutant outflow along the way.

Wang thinks the cold winter that the U.S. East endured in 2013 probably had something to do with these stronger extratropical cyclones. The intense storms could have affected the upper-atmosphere wind pattern, called the polar jet stream.

Jiang and Wang are now working on a new experiment to analyze how increased Asian emissions are affecting weather even farther afield than North America. Although their analysis is in a preliminary stage, it suggests that the aerosols are having a measurable effect on climatic conditions around the globe.

Conceptualizing Earth differently

How much these climate effects will increase in the coming decades is an open question. How much they can be reversed if emissions are reduced in Asia also remains unclear.

The researchers pointed out that their work should raise even more red flags about aerosol-based geoengineering solutions — interventions in the Earth system intended to counteract global warming. Some groups have suggested that we could inject sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to block incoming sunlight, but Jiang and Wang found that sulfates are the most effective type of aerosol for deepening extratropical cyclones. Ongoing injections would bring more stormy winter weather globally and would likely change the climate in other ways we cannot yet foresee.

Jiang noted that Asian emissions have made him and some other climate researchers conceptualize Earth differently. “Before, we thought about the North-South contrast: the Northern Hemisphere has more land, the Southern Hemisphere has more ocean. That difference is important to global atmospheric circulation. Now, in addition to that, there’s a West-East contrast. Europe and North America are reducing emissions; Asia is increasing them. That change also affects the global circulation and perturbs the climate.”


Obama “Quietly” Vetoes Keystone by Nate Beeler 0

Associated Press:  “The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people.”

President Obama Quietly Vetoes Keystone XL Pipeline. Nate Beeler via PoliticalCartoons.com. Used with permission.

By Nate Beeler. PoliticalCartoons.com. Used with permission.

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Nate Beeler‘s profile via the The Columbus Dispatch:

beeler_100Nate Beeler, the award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Dispatch, has earned the reputation of being both a top-flight artist and first-rate journalist. Formerly the cartoonist for the Washington Examiner, he won the 2009 Thomas Nast Award from the Overseas Press Club and the 2008 Berryman Award from the National Press Foundation, among other awards.

Beeler, 31, is a native of Bexley and earned a journalism degree at American University. His cartoons have appeared in such publications as Time, Newsweek and USA Today.

More Nate Beeler at PoliticalCartoons.com

Hudson Valley Foie Gras Steals the Name “Hudson” to Sell Animal Cruelty 0

One of the Hudson Valley’s bragging rights is that the name “Hudson” sells. It attracts tourism. Recreational outfitters tag it to their names. There are books about Hudson Valley cuisine. Businesses proudly carry the descriptors Hudson, Hudson River, Hudson Highlands, On-the-Hudson, and more.

A worker begins to force the full length of a metal feeding tube down the throat of a goose,  from a promotional video by Hudson Valley Foie Grois.

A worker begins to force the full length of a metal feeding tube down the throat of a duck. Capture from a promotional video by Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

This was not always the case. In the 1960s and 70s, the long-polluted Hudson River was a national joke, and “Hudson” as a business pitch was considered poor salesmanship. But today the name of America’s first river, as Bill Moyers called the Hudson, can lend even animal cruelty its own quaint Americana style, as in “Hudson Valley Foie Gras.”

According to PETA:

It calls itself the premier producer of foie gras in America. But, in 2013, a PETA investigator visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVFG), a factory farm, and saw workers shove steel tubes down ducks’ throats and pump huge amounts of grain into them. The investigator recorded HVFG’s manager stating that this is done three times a day, every day, for weeks.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras exploits not only unwary ducks, but the unwary Hudson. The company, with headquarters in Ferndale, NY, is actually located in the Upper Delaware River Valley. Apparently the name “Upper Delaware” lacks the necessary panache to sell the grotesquely swollen livers HVFG cuts out of the ducks it force feeds.

In the first video below, the Animal Protection and Rescue League presents an “industry-wide animal cruelty investigation of the U.S. foie gras industry” that includes HVFG. In the second, veterinarian Holly Cheever explains that HVFG ducks have livers so swollen the birds cannot balance themselves when walking.

Next week: The story of college student Amber Canavan whom HVFG wants imprisoned, purportedly for stealing two ducks. Sullivan County District Attorney James R. Farrell has charged her with felony burglary. But Canavan also recorded some of the cruelties in the videos below, and submitted evidence to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that alleges violations of federal law by HVFG, writing in her affidavit that she “observed sick animals, animals with untreated wounds… and caked in their own feces.”


Obama Keystone Action a Veto not a Pledge 0


As we reported was likely, Congress’ passage of a bill to construct the Keystone XL Pipeline has proven to be symbolic. President Obama today vetoed the measure, an action more directed at protecting presidential authority than the environment.

The administration has long maintained that because the pipeline traverses the international border with Canada, approval rests with the executive branch not the Congress. A January 7 Statement of Administration Policy said such congressional action:

[S]eeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross border pipelines serve the national interest by authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline project prior to the completion of the Presidential Permitting process.

The New York Times reported today:

By saying no to the legislation, Mr. Obama retains the authority to make a final judgment on the pipeline on his own timeline. The White House has said the president would decide whether to allow the pipeline when all of the environmental and regulatory reviews are complete.

Said one tweet by 350.org, a prime opponent of the pipeline:

Today the President defended his right to make the final call on KXL. He can still approve, or reject it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a veto override vote by early March, but it is unlikely he has the necessary 2/3 majority.

Below is the full text of President Obama’s veto message:


I am returning herewith without my approval S. 1, the “Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.”  Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.

The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously.  But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.  And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.


Virtual Reality by Andy Singer 0

Palmer Luckey, chief executive officer of Oculus, the virtual reality company Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014, told The Guardian, “People are narcissists and they want people to see what they think are their amazing lives.”

Virtual Reality by Andy Singer. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

Virtual Reality by Andy Singer. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

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Andy Singer_smFrom Everydaycitizen.com: Andy Singer is a freelance artist whose work can be seen in publications like Z Magazine, The Funny Times, The Bay Monthly, and the Eugene Weekly, Andy Singer’s comic “No Exit is a surreal cartoon that offers an incisive critique of the values that underlie our present consumer society. He has two cartoon collections: Attitude Featuring: Andy Singer ‘No Exit published in 2004 by Nantier, Beal and Minoustchine; and CARToons, cowritten with Randy Ghent, published in 2001. Andy Singer holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and a Bachelor of Arts in art history from Cornell University.

For Andy Singer’s website follow this link.

For an interview with Andy Singer follow this link to Everydaycitizen.com.

W.V. Oil Train Derailment: Worry Closer to Reality on the Hudson 0

Overnight, the fireball of the West Virginia oil train derailment alongside the Kanawha River gave fresh credence to year-old demands by Hudson River environmentalists for greater controls over the “virtual pipeline” of crude oil traveling by freight rail through the Hudson and Mohawk River valleys.

The environmental organization Riverkeeper wrote in a February 18 statement:

Every year, billions of gallons of oil move through states like New York – over crumbling bridges, through pristine ecosystems, and alongside schools and businesses. New federal safety rules for the surging industry of rail shipment of crude oil are due out this May – months after they were originally slated to be published. But the plan is riddled with loopholes, and the most obvious step – taking the worst-designed, most dangerous rail cars out of service – wouldn’t happen for years.

In West Virginia, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency. Up to 300 people were evacuated, the public water supply was shut off due to contamination, a home was destroyed and oil spilled into the Kanawha and tributaries.

The consequences of a derailment along the Hudson could be eerily similar. The freight line runs through densely populated areas and critical environmental habitat, and the communities of Poughkeepsie, Lloyd, Port Ewen and Rhinecliff depend on the river for their water supply.

Riverkeeper has called upon the State of New York to suspend all oil rail traffic headed to the Hudson River Port of Albany and require a formal environmental impact review and statement prior to resumption.

In addition,  it has demanded that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation:

  • Institutes a speed limit, taking into account rail conditions, environmental and public health risks, and community vulnerabilities, that protects the public.
  • Limits the length of these trains, as Riverkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity requested last year, in order to limit the devastation which could result from the next rail disaster.
  • Prohibits the use of the 23,000 tank cars identified by the NTSB and PHMSA as being the most vulnerable and least resilient tank cars on the rails. These “worst” tank cars – which include both CPC-1232s and DOT-111s – should not be permitted for use in hauling any other hazardous liquids (such as tar sands crude oil).
  • Requires that railroads immediately develop comprehensive spill response plans keyed geographically to each county through which these trains travel. Such plans are required for vessels carrying crude oil, but not for trains – an unacceptable loophole that needs to be closed.

For a full listing of Riverkeeper comments on crude oil transport by rail follow this link.

Sentient Being by Rainer Hachfeld 0

On January 28, the French National Assembly voted to change the status of animals from “furniture” to “sentient beings,” a long overdue reform of a policy that dates to Napoleonic timesMore from RT.com.

Sentient Being by Reiner Hachfeld. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

Sentient Being by Reiner Hachfeld. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

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rainer_hachfeld_072_smRainer Hachfeld was born in Ludwigshafen in 1939. He is a German playwright and political cartoonist. Having studied art in Berlin, he began his career as a caricaturist in Spandauer Volksblatt in 1966, and then in EXTRA-Blatt. He has also contributed to Stern and Der Abend. Since 1990, he has worked with the socialist daily Neues Deutschland.

Local Polystyrene Ban Brings American Chemistry Council to Putnam County, NY 0

While I was en route to hear the American Chemistry Council argue against a proposed ban on polystyrene in Putnam County, NY, National Public Radio broadcast a story about Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia whose study, published this week in Science, calculates the amount of plastic that enters the oceans annually:


Styrofoam (polystyrene) crumbles easily, as anyone who has played with some knows. Eventually it will crumble into nanoparticles of one ten millionth of an inch that are dangerous to fish life.

“In 2010 there were 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean globally,” she says. That’s plastic bottles, candy wrappers, laundry baskets, synthetic rope, and syringes. According to Jambeck’s calculations, that’s like putting five bags of plastic trash on every foot of coastline in the world.


“If you have waste that’s free in the environment, on the land mass that’s in close proximity to the ocean,” she explains, “it’s going to be blown or be washed into the ocean. It also could be washed into rivers and then flow from there.”

Also part of that waste load are polystyrene products, such as clamshells, coffee cups, and “peanuts” used for packing material — items we most often refer to as Styrofoam®, though that is a trademarked term of  the Dow Chemical Company. This “plastic tsunami,” as NPR called it, is an issue of worldwide concern, tackled mostly by local governments.

Michael Levy, director of the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the American Chemistry Council, travels far and wide to defend the polystyrene industry. No community is too small for him to make his case. Any town could tip the balance toward a regional or statewide avalanche of prohibitions and regulations.

Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, is passionately leading the ban effort in Putnam, the third smallest county in physical size in New York State outside New York City. In fact, 81% of the nation’s counties are larger. So small is Putnam, or so large is ACC, their budgets are comparable, though ACC reaps its revenues from a relative handful of chemical companies compared to the number of Putnam County taxpayers.

Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra. Via PutnamCountyNY.com

Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra. Via PutnamCountyNY.com

Some comparisons:

The annual budget of Putnam County is $145,460,348.00, with a population of 99,645. County Executive MaryEllen Odell is paid $148,635. County Legislator Scuccimara is paid $35,136. (See: Putnam County 2015 Budget)

The annual budget of the American Chemistry Council is $121,261,865 with a membership of 150. President and CEO Calvin Dooley is paid $2,627,921. Michael Levy is paid $308,126. (See: ACC 2013 IRS Filing)

For now, if implemented, the proposed county ban  will only pertain to county facilities — a further measure of how determined Levy is to use ACC’s considerable resources to head off opposition, no matter how small. Importantly, Scuccimara’s district covers the western side of the county embracing the tidal Hudson, a major estuary that interacts constantly with the Atlantic. During the last two decades, the river has seen a significant increase in plastic waste on its beaches, embayments, inlets and marinas.

Levy arrived in Putnam fresh from a major defeat at the hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced, over Levy’s objections and $1 million dollar lobbying effort:

[A]s of July 1, 2015, food service establishments, stores and manufacturers may not possess, sell, or offer for use single service Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam articles or polystyrene loose fill packaging, such as “packing peanuts” in New York City.

Happy woman holds polystyrene cup. Via American Chemistry Council

Happy woman holds polystyrene cup. Via American Chemistry Council

Last Thursday, Levy argued his case to Putnam’s Rules, Enactments & Intergovernmental Relations Committee. He said that polystyrene is non-toxic, more climate-friendly than paper, and takes up less space in landfills than most waste. It is not difficult to find evidence that contradicts each of his claims, such as a Harvard University fact sheet that also concludes:

Over 100 US and Canadian, as well as some European and Asian cities, have banned polystyrene food packaging as a result of the negative impacts to humans and the environment.

But most of Levy’s presentation was focused on the dual issue of solid waste and recycling, even offering Putnam assistance with the establishment of a polystyrene recycling facility to keep the material out of the solid waste flow. Oddly, he also testified that polystyrene is an insignificant constituent of the solid waste flow. There is no national recycling campaign by ACC; it is a recommendation it introduces when communities try to ban polystyrene.

New York City’s Department of Sanitation concluded it could not successfully recycle polystyrene. And the one supposedly successful recycling effort cited by Levy in the City of Los Angeles seems to have failed.  The sheer number of containers contaminated by grease and food proved too much for LA’s recycling program, according to The New York Times:

[O]fficials there said they tried doing so, but stopped because “the end product was coming out contaminated,” said Michael Lee, that city’s project manager for curbside recycling. Los Angeles does recycle clean foam like packing materials, but “anything contaminated with food waste, oil grease, we don’t accept it,” Mr. Lee said.

Noticeably absent from his presentation was a discussion of plastic contamination of the aquatic and marine environment, such as the Pacific Gyre, where it is estimated that a gathering of plastic occupies an area of ocean the size of Texas. But one need look no farther than the Hudson River, right outside Putnam County’s door –  that is, if you can even see the worst of the plastic pollution.

Polystyrene crumbles easily, as anyone who has nervously played with a Styrofoam cup knows. In the environment it continues to crumble to the microscopic stage. A January 6 study published in Environmental Science and Technology concludes that nanoparticles of polystyrene, particles in the range of one ten millionth of an inch, pose a significant risk to fish:

We found severe effects on feeding and shoaling behavior as well as metabolism of the fish; hence, we conclude that polystyrene nanoparticles have severe effects on both behavior and metabolism in fish and that commonly used nanosized particles may have considerable effects on natural systems and ecosystem services derived from them.

If past contamination issues are any indication, similar findings regarding other forms of wildlife, and humans, will not be far behind.

Levy was unable to sway legislator Scuccimarra or her colleagues. By unanimous vote, the Putnam County Rules, Enactments & Intergovernmental Relations Committee agreed to send the polystyrene ban to the full county legislature for approval.

Saddest Show on Earth by Y&R for PETA 0

Via PETA. For information about the Y&R creative team, follow this link.

Via PETA. For PETA on circuses, follow this link. For information about the Y&R creative team, follow this link.

Out of the Public Eye, the Global Economic Community Plans for Environmental Disruption 1

By Tehniyatshaikh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign outside Armed Forces Medical College, Pune India, a common message worldwide. By Tehniyatshaikh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The global water crisis and climate change receive equal billing with unemployment and cyber security in the World Economic Forum report Global Risks 2015:

As last year, concerns about environmental and economic risks remain, in particular around failure of climate-change adaptation, water crises and unemployment and underemployment, reflecting concern about how little tangible action has been taken to address them. At the same time, cyber attacks remain among the most likely high-impact risks.

By SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Boiling water at a public latrine with a biogas stove in Ullalu near Bangalore. By SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The report “completes a decade of highlighting the most significant long-term risks worldwide, drawing on the perspectives of experts and global decision-makers.”

Those who follow global business and economic trends are unsurprised that WEF reports are increasingly dominated by environmental issues. While public attention and media are  riveted by empty political debates about whether climate change is real, and whether God would allow humans to affect the planet negatively, the smart major corporations are figuring global environmental disruption into their long-term business plans.

In 2008, IBM issued its Global Innovation Outlook report that sounded an alarm about water:

[T]he future of the world’s most basic resource is changing in unprecedented ways. Immigration, population growth, and climate change are affecting the way we all think about our relationship with the world’s water supply. And by 2050, when the world’s population is expected to peak at about 9.4 billion people, it is conceivable that water could become one of the scarcest and most valuable commodities in the world.

When Jeffrey Imelt took over as General Electric’s CEO, one of his early actions was to ask his engineers and scientists to report back to him on whether climate change was real. Their finding was an unambiguous yes. On January 24, 2013, GE published the following on its Citizenship blog:

The year ahead will be dominated by growing tension between ever-stronger evidence of climate change and the inadequacy of the global policy response. Drought in the USA in 2012 highlighted the vulnerability of commodity prices to intensified weather risk, and 2013 is set to be another year of above-average global temperatures. But global greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise, putting the world on track for overshooting the 2ºC “safe” target and ending up in a 4ºC world.

There has been a slow, quiet revolution inside Fortune 500 companies. As they explore market opportunities for innovating adaptations that address the water and climate crises, they discover the inescapable links to public health, poverty and the developing world. From the GE Sustainability website:

Finding ways to help emerging economies meet rising demand for energy—set to grow 40% over the next two decades—is essential for bringing those economies out of poverty and improving human development. But at the same time, expanding fossil-fuel use is leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, which threatens future development.

Of course, the argument can be made that companies make the connection between global economic welfare and environmental and social problems in order to eke every dollar out of any crisis. But these issues are inseparable, if we accept that innovation is a crucial element to solving global problems, the marketplace is an essential delivery system for innovation, and that business is not immune to the same disruptions.

Waterfootprint.org makes the point that our water future may depend on companies that make those connections:

Risks can turn into an opportunity for those companies that proactively respond to the challenge of global freshwater scarcity. Frontrunners that create product transparency before others do, that formulate specific and measurable targets with respect to water footprint reduction, with special attention to areas where problems of water scarcity and pollution are most critical, and that can demonstrate actual improvements, can turn this into a competitive advantage.

As important, water and climate issues have arrived on the doorstep of major corporations in ways that were once unthinkable. One example: on April 13, 2013, the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York topped its front page with this unusual headline: “IBM Demands Fewer Chemicals in Water.” The City of Poughkeepsie, NY supplied the treated water used in the company’s microchip fabrication plant in East Fishkill. The water originates from the Hudson River. In a letter made public, IBM told the city it required cleaner water for its chip manufacturing, even though the company performs its own additional filtration at the facility.

Those who live in the Hudson Valley are far more accustomed to the reverse — headlines that demand better environmental behavior from the region’s companies, including IBM. But the story is in keeping with a trend global in scope. Water conflicts, often with local communities, are determining forces in energy production and manufacturing, even in a company’s decision about what locale will be most accommodating to a new workforce.

Slowly, quietly, environmental affairs, water and climate in particular, have become big news inside the business world, and for every reason imaginable, from smart investments to overregulation to global security. For example, in the last two months alone, Forbes magazine has published six major stories about water — on policy, innovation, international affairs, poverty, Texas and China. (see links at conclusion of this post)

Though smart businesses appear to be on their own track, mostly out of public view, WEF observes that innovation is not keeping pace with profound global challenges. Also included in its latest findings are dire warnings about biodiversity, overfishing, deforestation and resource mismanagement. The conclusion of  the Global Risks 2015 report  warns that if short-term thinking delays adaptation it will be at great global peril:

Ten years of “doing risks” has also led to the recognition that a short-term vision prevents addressing long-term issues. Some slower-moving trends have continued inexorably: the last 10 years have brought conclusive proof that the earth’s climate is changing and that human activities are to blame – yet progress to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions remains frustratingly slow. This lesson is reflected this year in the introduction of different time horizons and the differentiation between risks and trends. Hopefully these innovations will help many public and private organizations around the world address this aspect of human nature in mitigating risks and building resilience.

In an upcoming post: the World Economic Forum’s deep dive into water issues.

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World Economic Forum Global Risks 2015

Forbes water articles,12/14 – 02/15: