Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mitigating Climate Change

My inspiration for taking action about our environment was the former president of Costa Rica, his excellency Jose Maria Figueres-Olsen.  Through him I first came to understand abut Sustainability and how it relates to human, environmental and economic development.  Sustainability means "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."  I met him when he came to the American University of Kuwait to speak about the escalating dilemma of climate change and its effects on our environment today and into the future.  

I had known about the former president before this being from Central America myself.  I knew he had accomplished so much in his young life and had been dedicated to gearing Costa Rica, and in many ways the rest of Latin America, towards sustainable development through policy making that includes strategic investments in social areas and the developing of environmental policies.  It is exciting that even in less wealthy countries this issue can be addressed, so imagine what the more wealthy countries can do?  This is where social responsibility comes in, but that is a topic I will save for a later post.  

At any rate, he is a very down-to-earth and un-assuming person.  He smoothly slipped through the crowd into the auditorium, but I recognized him immediately.  I greeted him in Arabic with Salam Alaikom.  He responded "wa alaikom salam!"  I then asked him how he is in Spanish and he was surprised to find an Spanish-speaking student.  I explained to him that I am from Guatemala and we had a nice conversation.  His speech was amazing.  He had the entire audience mesmorized for almost two hours with the topic and his undeniable passion, wit and charm.  

He explained how the environmental problems can find roots in the failure of government to implement and follow through on policies to address them.  He stated that it is crucial to elect representatives in government who are at least environmentally aware and able to invest in protecting the environment proactively.  A leader should focus not only on foreign relations, which need development in Kuwait, but also on domestic issues and use influence and power to make change from within, such as including environment policy as part of the National agenda.

The UN Secretary General said; "No longer was it hoped, would environmental protection be regarded as a luxury or afterthought.  Rather, environmental factors would be integrated with economic and social issues and become a central part of the policy making process."

If you might have noticed, in the corner of the poster advertising the ex-president's speech, there is a little green logo titled, "Equilibrium."  This is also how I first learned about Equilibrium, the company I am now interning for.  



Friday, April 25, 2008

Green Travel

I will be traveling sooo much this summer and taking so many flights, which inspired me to consider the environmental cost of flying. I plan to do a documentary of my experience with all my flights this summer and record how much I waste not only through the plane emissions itself but through my own footprint along the way. I will see where I can incorporate "green" ways to my travel and report it to here in Green Gulf.

According to official statistics, the environmental cost of flying is zero. This is because flying between countries is classed as an international activity, so the greenhouse emissions from the planes are not counted on any given country's stats.

The European Union's aircraft emissions, for example, have risen by 87% since 1990! The burning of petroleum jet fuel releases greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change. Air traffic emmissions produces more than 600 million tons of carbon dioxide -- the leading greenhouse gas -- each year.

It also releases nitrates, ash, and sulfates, some of which deplete the layer of ozone gas that is crucial for protecting life from the Sun's rays.

One hour of a Gulfstream jet burns as much fuel as driving a family car for a year!

So for my first step toward green travel, although already it seems by the simple fact of flying in the first place I am already doing a lot of damage, I decided to take part in this new campaign called:
ECO2llege Carbon Credit. I came accross it on a website I was using to buy my plane tickets -

They have a campaign called "Fly Green." This is an exerpt from their site about it:

What does "Fly Green" mean?

Traveling by plane can have an environmental impact from the carbon dioxide emissions released during the flight. Carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of Greenhouse Gases directly contributes to global warming. StudentUniverse is now offering the ECO2llege Class option to all customers to help balance the impact of the carbon emissions released during your flight. With ECO2llege Class you can go out and see the world while helping protect it at the same time.

When you upgrade to an ECO2llege Class ticket StudentUniverse will allocate enough Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset the carbon dioxide emissions created during your flight. The RECs purchased by StudentUniverse are generated by American wind farms producing clean natural energy.

Flying is the fastest growing contributor to global warming. But if you still travel by plane, it is clearly a good thing if your travel has a low environmental impact, or positive social or economic impact.

The overriding concern is to reduce our carbon footprint, which must mean flying less often.

I was just booking a flight for my mom to Kuwait and I noticed that British Airways also has this option now when buying tickets:

Offset the carbon emissions for these flights

carbon offset

You can help minimise the impact of your flying by offsetting your carbon emissions. The total carbon emissions from your itinerary are 2.600 tonnes and the cost of offsetting your emissions is $ 77.28.

Your money will go towards UN certified emission reduction projects.

* Please be aware that once your carbon offset contribution is paid, it cannot be refunded.

The total cost to offset these emissions is

$ 77.28 *

How is this calculated?

How does carbon offsetting work?

The money you pay to offset the emissions from your flying is used to buy and cancel carbon credits that will have been registered and verified through the United Nations Kyoto Protocol. These carbon credits balance the effect of your CO2 emissions by funding projects that reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

Where does your money go?

Your money goes towards supporting projects in developing countries and typically focus on providing new sources of renewable energy and in promoting energy-efficiency schemes. In addition to balancing your CO2, the projects we have chosen must also bring social and economic benefits to the communities in which they are based and often bring health benefits from improvements to local air quality.

What are the projects?

Morgan Stanley funds emission reduction projects in developing countries across the world and maintains a portfolio of carbon credits on behalf of British Airways customers. The locations of the projects selected reflect the global nature of our business.

Find out about the Ningxia Dalisi Wind Farm in China

Investing in renewable wind power in China

This UN Kyoto Protocol wind farm project in the Ningxia region of China will supply electricity to the second poorest region in the country. The Dalisi wind farm aims to save over 78,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to taking 17,000 cars off the road each year. The wind farm also aims to work together with the local communities to provide more jobs and reduce the poverty in the region.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Waste Management Conference

I had a great experience during the Kuwait Waste Management conference. The Public Authority for Industry sponsored it in order to raise awareness of the dangers of wastes and various negative consequences on public health and the environment of the region and of the world. The exhibitions included many organizations aimed at protecting the environment and minimizing contamination from waste and other forms of pollutants.

I was impressed by the amount of companies that exist currently in the gulf region to address waste and protect the environment. The issue I see that is not being addressed yet is social responsibility. The companies there were those that are dedicated to waste management, bu there were no companies that specialize in other areas yet have a commitment to being responsible about the waste they produce. Also, most of the companies there seemed to be addressing either petroleum, industrial, or hospital waste. But there seems to be a lot of innovation among these companies and that is encouraging to see. I didn't see any companies like Equilibrium Environmental Consulting there.

There were many lectures, one of which was regarding a recycling campaign and what was unique and significant about it was that they actually do follow up studies after they do assemblies for the public and schools to see how many people actually change their behavior after being educated about recycling. They found overwhelming results. Many people indeed responded to the new awareness. This is very encouraging considering the fact that many people in Kuwait consider awareness campaigns and education about such topics as recycling as a futile yet noble effort because they see that society in the Middle East is years behind in getting to where other countries are in this. however, this study showed that people in this region are capable of playing a role in being more socially responsible if given education and awareness about it.

I told a classmate about the conference who had created an invention to reduce waste, and he went to the conference and met someone there from the Kuwaiti government who would help to get his product licensed more expeditiously. While he was discussing this matter with the municipality, I took the opportunity to read their posters which were for the most part in Arabic, but I knew enough to understand that they were the department for environmental affairs of the municipality. I asked them if they knew anything of the National Assembly's temporary committee on the environment. According to them, it may become a permanent committee. They invited me to come to their office in Kuwait City to ask any questions I would like. I plan to do this both for Equilibrium and for my upcoming debate project in my Kuwait Politics and Government class where I will be required to do a five minute speech giving an argument regarding the environment and how it relates to the national assembly committees and Kuwaiti policy and my partner will be giving the counter-argument. Hopefully the municipality will be able to provide me some good data to back up my debate.

That is all for now...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Waste Management Conference - Kuwait

It is promising to see that in spite of the issue Kuwait and the rest of the Middle East countries have with waste, there are many efforts coming forth to address it. There is a Waste Conference being held this week in Kuwait, where many of the people behind these efforts are coming together in an organized conference to address this issue. I am very much looking forward to attend. The conference is three days long and will be addressing many problems and proposing many solutions. Representatives from many countries will be there from countries such as Bahrain, Lebanon and UAE. This is the web site for the conference:

How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.