[Coral-List] Crazy Ideas to Save Coral Reefs

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Thu Sep 6 12:30:49 EDT 2012

I agree that the time is long overdue for us to be accountable for the
blazing trails of carbon we leave behind as we strive to understand the
natural world. However, this is not as easy as we might think. Oberlin
College has a goal of climate neutrality. We've looked into using methane
from the local landfill to offset carbon related to heating. We also
purchase "green" electricity. What was originally the "green arts
district", a block-sized project, has expanded to the "Oberlin Project", a
partnership between the college and the city to develop a green corridor in
which local foods are produced and wastes from one process feed into others
(not just composting, etc.).

As we have examined the alternatives, several things have become obvious to
the group and some obvious to a subset (including myself) but not the
whole. We examined RECs as part of the larger strategy and found two
problems that ultimately took them off the table as a major part of our
strategy. First, RECs related to travel and similar activities generally go
into some amorphous entity that is rarely transparent. As a result, you are
not able to tell whether your well-meaning contributions are really making
a difference. For example, ethanol is a favorite but we're all pretty much
in agreement that it's a net loser. Also, we tend to draw our credits from
overseas where carbon accounting by the US is very different than it is
domestically; ethanol from the US must account for production-related
carbon - if it comes from Brazil, it does not. As a result, we are pushing
less developed countries into making trade-offs of their food and land for
our carbon footprint.  We ultimately decided to limit our offsets to local
(or at least regional) projects where we had a good sense of their goals
and could keep track of their progress toward them. This is impossible when
we simply drop money into a bucket to offset our travel. In the end, much
of this is reminiscent of tithes for sins.

The other difficulty - and one we have not resolved yet - is the diversity
of opinion on how to count carbon. Most accounting systems do not amortize
carbon embedded in construction - and many (most?) do not even count carbon
related to indirect factors (e.g., trucking in biomass, creating
infrastructure for a "clean" project) - and nearly all fail to even
consider things like fertilizer and cement production. As a result, green"
biofuels which require huge amounts of fertilizer to maintain productivity
on marginal farmlands are not in the accounting. We have several LEED
certified buildings on campus. One is gold and is 85% concrete - none of
which is counted.

We exclusively use "green" electricity, which drops our carbon footprint
significantly. Oddly, "green" electricity includes hydroelectric-based
utilities. I find it a bit embarrassing that our students picket in front
of mountain-top removal sites to keep their computers on standby and don't
seem to mind that hydroelectric facilities share many of the same
downstream environmental effects. Our stated rationale is that these are
only credited for sites that were built for flood control. The idea is that
the negative impacts are charged against the flood-control part of the
facility while we can claim the "green" part related to energy production
(and, there's all that pesky concrete again). By this logic, if Oberlin
bought credits from a research-oriented nuclear reactor for Physics at
another school, we could claim that the energy is clean because the carbon
is neutral and the impacts 250,000 years down the line are credited to
"science" at that other school and not the college.

Having sounded like the ultimate curmudgeon. let me end by saying that I am
wholeheartedly in favor of the idea that Judy raises. However, I would hope
that, as scientists and concerned conservationists, we take the time to
understand where our tithes are going. If the airline isn't particularly
transparent, then find a local project that you feel good about. Does it
really reduce carbon - and does it do it in a way that also provides value
for the community? Oberlin College has what has been touted as the most
significant environmental building in the US on campus. They had to come up
with its own LEED category because we passed LEED Platimum about half way
through the accounting process. However, our backup heating system is a
COAL PLANT (yeah, you read that right - we've been one of the Sierra Club's
highest rated campuses, and we have a COAL PLANT - who was it that said, "I
wouldn't belong to a club that let me in"?) Also, wouldn't it have been
more effective to put the 2,000 square feet of solar panels on low-income
housing in the city? Yeah, you can't have everything.

The down side of my approach is that it's too easy to wait until you have
all this sorted out and use that as an excuse to wait - I've been guilty
myself. So, my goal in this rambling response is not to argue against our
responsibility to lead by example, but to not fall into the trap of
thinking that by just dropping our pocket change in the tithing bucket at
the airline counter we're really making a difference (the approach at the
last two ISRS meetings). I don't have many of the answers here, but perhaps
this might be something we could encourage as a group - finding a
project(s) that we can stand behind an publish a balanced environmental
accounting that justifies our support.


On Wed, Sep 5, 2012 at 12:16 PM, Quenton Dokken <qdokken at gulfmex.org> wrote:

> Excellent point Judy.  It is time we look into the mirror and accept
> individual accountability or least acknowledge that each of us is a part of
> the problem.  Not only do we, as scientist and tourist, support the release
> of carbon via transportation, but also through supporting the construction
> of roads, hotels, and entertainment infrastructure.  In our quest to
> explore
> the tropical reefs of the world we are the market that island developers
> target.  We often discuss the impacts of divers in the water, but rarely do
> we acknowledge/discuss the impact of divers getting to the dive site and
> recreating onshore between dives.   The "out of the water" impacts are just
> as devastating if not more so than the "in the water" impacts.
> I am not naïve enough to believe that we are going to stop traveling to
> exotic and fragile locations.  Hence, our only option is to demand improved
> technology that is more environmentally friendly.  Recently, new gas
> mileage
> standards were passed for the U.S.A.  The auto industry has been fighting
> against this for decades, but thankfully more far-sighted minds prevailed..
> How do we extend this effort to the cruise industry?  How do we get island
> governments to consider the impacts of road building and storm water
> runoff?
> Etc.
> There are solutions, but they will become the order of the day only if we
> can get business side of the impact equation engaged as a leader in the
> effort.
> Quenton
> Quenton R. Dokken, PhD
> President/CEO
> Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Inc.
> Mail:
> PMB 51  5403 Everhart Rd.
> Corpus Christi, TX 78411
> Office:
> 3833 South Staples
> Suite S-214
> Corpus Christi, TX 78411
> 361-882-3939 office
> 361-882-1260 fax
> 361-442-6064 cell
> 1-800-884-4175 toll free
> qdokken at gulfmex.org
> www.gulfmex.org
> -----Original Message-----
> From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Judith Lang
> Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2012 9:18 AM
> To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Subject: [Coral-List] Crazy Ideas to Save Coral Reefs
> Greetings,
> Many of us subscribe to this list because we love being in the water for
> research, monitoring, education, photography and/or simple joy. For some of
> us, however, the travel involved in getting from our home bases to the
> field
> and back again via land, air and/or sea releases a huge amount of carbon
> dioxide into the atmosphere. Tank fills are another source of carbon
> emissions specific to all who scuba dive.
> Perhaps it's time to boldly suggest that we take more seriously our
> contribution to global warming. Are we prepared to require governments,
> foundations, NGOs , or even ourselves, to purchase offsets to balance the
> carbon emissions associated with our diving, given that doing so might well
> come out of the funding for our own activities?
> Individuals may be hesitant to ask potential funders to budget this
> additional expense if its cost hasn't already been internalized by the
> whatever funding organization. Knowing which organizations already are
> doing
> so might be a useful  "negotiating strategy." I've heard of a few, and hope
> there are more of which I am unaware.
> All those receiving funding for carbon offsets associated with their
> professional work are encouraged to send me an email describing how this
> was
> accomplished and with which organization. I'd like to collate and share the
> responses with the coral-list.
> Those heros amongst us who are personally offsetting their own carbon
> emissions for either work or pleasure are also asked to let me know.
> Advance many thanks,
> Judy Lang
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Dennis Hubbard
Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
 Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"

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