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Ecosystem for sale

On the oddity of privatizing nature

Given the uncertainty accruing to traditional investments in today's economy, here's a trend to consider: the monetizing of ecosystem services. One of the first public discussions of this, the Biodiversity & Ecosystem Finance Summit taking place in New York this weekend, aims to answer this question: how can financiers and corporations take a lead in biodiversity and ecosystem conservation? (I can think of a few ways, yes.) Welcome to the developing area of "biodiversity finance," which seeks to monetize biodiversity and ecosystem assets like wetlands, rainforests, reefs, and so forth so they can then be protected -- at a profit. …

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Sail-powered cargo ship returns home, wave-powered vessel sets off

A cargo ship partially powered by a gigantic kite-like sail has completed a 12,000-mile roundtrip voyage across the Atlantic. Captain Lutz Heldt, who says the ship used around 20 percent less fuel thanks to kite power, says, "We can once again actually 'sail' with cargo ships, thus opening a new chapter in the history of commercial shipping." Not to be outdone, a Japanese sailor has embarked on his own bon voyage: a 4,400-mile trip in a recycled-aluminum, wave-powered boat.

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RFK on GDP

As I read all the fearful projections of decline in GDP if we act to address global warming, I am reminded of the words of Robert F. Kennedy on GDP: "it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." Watch:

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U.S. economy: "I'm melting!"

A few thoughts for environmentalists

As the week's news can attest, the current financial system is in pretty bad shape; we're not at complete meltdown, but it's pretty scary. Here are a few thoughts for the environmental community (aside from the general concern we should all share as citizens): When "bread and butter" economic concerns rise, the environment as an issue tends to recede (even more than usual). This makes it important to try to link environmental policies directly to economic strength; e.g., a comprehensive energy policy can help reinvigorate the manufacturing sector, create jobs, and decrease energy prices. Stringent environmental regulation can help to …

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ECO:nomics: Wal-Mart

CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. offers a realistic assessment of his company’s sustainability efforts

"We are not green." Those words were spoken by Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. during his panel at the conference. Hours later, they headlined a post on the WSJ energy blog. Hours after that, they served as the subject of a broadside from the company's sworn enemy, Wal-Mart Watch. Sigh. Here's the exact quote, as I transcribed it in my notes (100 percent accuracy not guaranteed): It has been positive from a PR standpoint, but one of the things we learned is that we are not sophisticated enough to spin a story -- ultimately, we'd get hammered. We are …

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EPA’s economic analysis of climate bill relatively favorable

The U.S. EPA has released its economic analysis of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008, concluding that implementing the bill, which includes a carbon cap-and-trade system, would not significantly harm the U.S. economy over the next 20 years. The agency estimated the bill would likely cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 11 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and about 56 percent below by 2050. The EPA also forecast that the U.S. gross domestic product would grow by some 80 percent between 2010 and 2030 under the bill -- only 1 percent below what it would otherwise have been. Critics of …

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Superweeds on the march

In Arkansas, state ag officials turn to Syngenta to solve problems caused by Monsanto

In the late 1990s, farmers in the Southeast began planting Roundup Ready cotton -- genetically engineered by Monsanto to withstand heavy doses of Roundup, the seed giant's own blockbuster herbicide. As a result, use of Roundup exploded -- and the farmers enjoyed "clean" (i.e., weedless) fields of monocropped cotton. But after a point, something funny happened -- certain weeds began to survive the Roundup dousings. These "superweeds" had somehow gained Roundup resistance themselves, much to the vexation of the farmers. Things have gotten so grim that the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service called in a scientist from the U.K. to study …

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An interview with the founders of Method green home-care products

After spending a few minutes with Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, I began to wonder if they weren't part of a modern-day adaptation of The Odd Couple. The 30-something founders of the Method line of home-care products, friends since high school, are about as different as two business partners could be. Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry. Lowry (Method's "chief greens keeper") is tall and lanky, with dark brown hair. The day we met, he was wearing a classic slacks-and-button-down number and a serious look on his face. He's a chemical engineer with an environmental degree and has worked as a …

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EPA announces tough air-pollution standards for shipping industry

The U.S. EPA Friday announced tough new diesel pollution standards for the shipping industry (perhaps to distract us from Wednesday's announcement of not-so-tough ozone standards.) The new standards for diesel trains and ships will begin to be phased in in 2015; when in full effect, they'll require a 90 percent reduction in soot emissions and an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions. Says Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch, "This is a rare case of the Bush administration doing something positive on air pollution." That's high praise.

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ECO:nomics: Overload

Good lord. Today was overwhelming. There were about 10 sessions, every one thought-provoking. I interviewed Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy. I saw energy advisers from all three presidential campaigns offer substantive comparisons of the candidates' climate positions. I saw in-depth discussions of carbon trading, green automobiles, shareholder resolutions, and the structure of cap-and-trade systems. I talked to journalists, people working on water and carbon trading, the guy who runs the X-Prize foundation, heads of NGOs, and representatives from Wal-Mart and Exxon. It's friggin' wonk heaven. I'm half-drunk and I've lost my voice from talking so much. Over the next …