Tag Archives: climate change

Geoengineering: Becoming More and More of a Real Solution

As time has passed without any serious action being taken to mitigate climate change, scientists have had to adjust their models to account for our continuing high levels of carbon emissions.  Accordingly, their predictions have evolved, and not in a positive way.  The world of the future looks ever bleaker with each year that goes by.  In fact, some scientists are beginning to accept the realization that at this point, there is no way to halt impending disaster through reduction in greenhouse gas emissions alone.  Something more drastic has to be done if we want to preserve our planet as we know it today.

Instead of reducing carbon emissions, therefore, heads are turning toward the notion of mitigating them.  This means actually intervening in the earth’s climate system, as opposed to taking preventative measures against negatively affecting it. This still relatively unexplored practice is called geoengineering.

There are two main types of geoengineering: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM).

o-GEOENGINEERING-RESEARCH-570 (1)

Carbon dioxide removal is the process of taking carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere.  There are a number of different methods for doing so, although the practice is not yet widespread.  There is still much development to be done, and the costs of carbon capture and removal are as of yet undetermined. Many speculate that they will be prohibitively high.

Solar radiation management, on the other hand, is the process of actually controlling the amount of solar radiation delivered to the earth’s atmosphere by reflecting it back out to space.  As with CDR, there are several SRM options: for example, cloud seeding and stratospheric aerosol injection.

A mere several years ago, the thought of geoengineering rendered a giant question mark in people’s minds.  Many stood against the idea of taking such serious steps toward actually controlling the earth’s climate.  The objections were widely ranged: the risks are huge, the unknowns are great, and who are we to be playing God anyway?  Today, though the practice still remains quite controversial, it is being taken more seriously throughout the scientific community.

The risks, unknowns, and moral debates surrounding the matter, however, have not changed.  Relatively little has been done to explore the effects—both positive and negative—that geoengineering practices would bring.  Speculation primarily dominates objectors’ arguments, but it also fuels proponents’ reasoning.

Some heavy political questions will also need to be addressed at some point, if geoengineering is to become a real option.  Because experimentation would necessitate a large physical area, running tests would require sign-off from the bundle of neighboring countries that would be affected.  And if geoengineering is deemed an option worth pursuing, who gives the go-ahead to apply it to the entire planet?  Does every nation need to give its consent, since every nation would be affected?  Who’s in charge of this common area?

While these difficult questions remain unanswered, some citizens aren’t waiting to take action.  Some are taking measures into their own hands, despite the flagrant violations of international codes they face by doing so.  One American businessman, Russ George, opted to pursue a highly controversial ocean fertilization scheme in July of 2012.  After his idea was rejected by the Ecuadorian and Spanish governments when he proposed massive iron ore dumps near the Canary and Galapagos Islands, he moved to the Canadian coast to carry out the plan.  Since then, he has been under tough scrutiny from numerous critics worldwide.  Though his heart may be in the right place (although we aren’t certain about that), the potential ramifications of undertaking such a large-scale, relatively unresearched experiment are quite complex.  Messing with the oceans could have very negative, long-term effects that future generations (of many species) will have to face.

Clearly, the debate is complex and riddled with uncertainties.  However, our planet isn’t going to wait for us to figure things out.  Climate change is happening, and it’s not just going to be put on pause because we need more time.  After all, as Foreign Affairs journal has put it, “That nations are talking seriously about climate engineering is a sign of just how sick the planet has become.”

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Dr. Ernest Moniz: A New Era for Energy?

On Monday March 4th, President Barack Obama filled two important, energy-related positions in his administration with the nomination of Ernest Moniz for the Secretary of Energy and of Gina McCarthy for the administrator of the EPA. These nominations mark a changing of the guard as both Steven Chu and Lisa Jackson move on to other pursuits. Furthermore, they come at a time when political momentum to combat climate change and to tackle energy issues seem to be increasing.  Recently, in both his Inaugural Address and State of the Union speech, President Obama discussed the threat of climate change and the need for cleaner energy technologies.  With this new momentum of support for clean energy, the appointment of a new Energy secretary raises a few questions. Just who is Ernest (Ernie) Moniz and will he be able to capitalize on the seemingly shifting politics of climate change to push towards a more renewable future?

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

First, let’s talk about his background.  With experience as an experimental scientist and as a government administrator, Moniz is no rookie to energy technology or policy issues. Formally trained as a nuclear physicist at Stanford University, he joined the physics faculty at MIT in 1973 where he later went on to become department head. Then, from 1995 to 1997, he served as the associate director for Science in the White House Office, and from 1997 to 2001, he served as the Undersecretary of Energy. Currently, Moniz is a professor of physics and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as the director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), a program started in 2006 to link all of the interdisciplinary energy research projects taking place on MIT’s campus. No one can argue about his outstanding resume. He brings technical knowledge from his experience as a professor and administrative knowledge from his background in the government. All of these experiences should help Moniz get settled quickly into the new position and allow him the opportunity to hit the ground running on different energy opportunities.

© Justin Knight. Courtesy of M.I.T.

© Justin Knight. Courtesy of M.I.T.

However, it is also important to consider his history with some of the important energy technology issues. Under Moniz, the MITEI has supported many different research projects and two thirds of them have been associated with renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management, and other renewable energy enabling tools. The largest single area of funded research for the Energy Initiative has been in solar energy. Nevertheless, Moniz does not deny the importance of oil and gas production and supports hydraulic fracturing technology, putting some environmentalists up in arms.  He has stated that natural gas is “a bridge to a low-carbon future,” a comment that even more environmentalists  dislike. This information is important. Research into his background and history on different energy topics provides vital information about how he will approach the same technologies in his new position.  At the same time, though, how much will energy policy even factor into Moniz’s job?

© Getty Images

© Getty Images

It might be even more important to consider the limitations of the Department of Energy’s budget. As Forbes Magazine reports, “Moniz knows better than anyone else that the Department of Energy has almost nothing to do with energy.  It’s all about weapons and waste. Nuclear weapons and nuclear waste to be exact.” To visualize this assertion, take a look at this interesting graphic that breaks down the DoE’s 2013 fiscal year budget . About 65% of the department’s budget relates to nuclear weapons, nuclear waste management, and other nuclear technologies.  Only 15% of the budget solely relates to energy technologies of which almost 3% goes into nuclear energy funding, and Moniz, a nuclear physicist himself, is a strong proponent of nuclear energy. After the Fukushima crisis in 2011 when many countries decided to shut down or curtail their nuclear programs in response to environmentalists, he stated that “it would be a mistake” to let Japan’s Fukushima failure to end the use of nuclear power. To a certain extent, it makes sense that the last two Energy Secretaries were nuclear and atomic physicists.  The majority of their budget deals with general nuclear technology, not with a variety of energy technologies.

For this reason, it will be interesting to see if Moniz will try to reinsert the word Energy back into the Department of Energy. His record as a researcher and policy leader in both the scientific community as well as the energy industry should provide him with the skills and resources to do some heavy lifting in such an important time for Energy policy. Only time will tell if he will be a game changer for the DoE and for energy policy in the United States.

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A Look at Carbon Capture and Storage

Global warming has become an accepted phenomenon in the scientific community.  The consensus is that anthropogenic activities are dominant factors in this rapid climate change.  An increase in violent storms and severe droughts are becoming a normal occurrence on a global scale.  The impacts of one species have never before induced global changes in climate.  Limiting global temperature rise to 2 °C above preindustrial temperatures has become an accepted broad political consensus worldwide (1, 3).  The combustion of fossil fuels has been identified as the major contributor to climate change (1, 5, and 7).  Climate change predictions set a deadline of 2020 to significantly reduce greenhouse gases in order to mitigate anthropogenic effects on global warming (3).  Urgent action is needed.

world CO2 by fuel typeworld CO2 emissions per capita

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to play a significant role in limiting climate change.  Future global emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels can potentially be reduced by 20% with the implementation of CCS (4).   Currently 3 megatons of CO2 (MtCO2) per year by pilot plants is already being captured from the emissions caused by natural gas cleanup and power plants.  The CO2 is then being stored in geologic formations (3).  Unfortunately, at the present there is a serious lack of funding to provide for new construction of CCS.  This fact will push the learning from these first pilot projects well beyond the year 2020 (3).  Additionally, another drawback to CCS will be the inevitable incremental costs incurred.  For example in the U.K., additional costs per year per household may be increased as much as 10% as a result of CCS implementation (3).

There are three methods of CCS currently under investigation.  Pre combustion capture is a process that chemically strips off the carbon leaving only hydrogen to burn.  Oxyfuel combustion burns coal or gas in the presence of denitrified air to yield only CO2 and water.  Post combustion uses chemical solvents to capture the CO2 from the flue gases (1, 2, and 3).   Captured CO2 is then fluidized by pressurizing to 70 bars.  This liquefied CO2 is next transported to a storage site where it can be injected to depths greater than 800m (2, 3).  The selection of storage sites is critical and will require monitoring for leakage for many decades to come.  Additionally, methods to re-mediate deficient storage will need to be readily put into place (1, 2, and 3).  Many of the techniques already being practiced by the oil and gas industry will function quite well as modeling and monitoring tools for CO2 storage.  However, as learning progresses these techniques will need to be evaluated for strengths and weaknesses.  Some examples of these techniques are: horizontal drilling to provide for cost effective storage, modeling techniques to predict groundwater displacement, CO2 migration, CO2 distribution and immobilization, seismic monitoring to image location of underground CO2, and borehole monitoring to heed early warnings of seepage (2, 3).   Teng et. al (2005) have analyzed some theoretical outcomes to physical and economic outcomes of carbon storage with leaking.  Their research highlights the need for critically essential decisions in reservoir selection, project design, and plant operation to avoid project failure (6).

At the moment the largest barrier to deployment of more CCS pilot plants is not a technological barrier but a market barrier.  Current demonstration coal plants have required additional capital in the range of $1.5 billion to complete construction.  Demonstration plants also have the barrier of recovering the operational costs of producing decarbonized electricity (3).  Critical commercial help and subsidies are needed for large scale up of CCS.  Haszeldine (2009) points out that price supports currently used to support renewables are actually supporting a more expensive option per energy unit than it would if it supported the deployment of CCS.  Rapid deployment of CCS is needed to promote learning.  Additionally, the sharing of detailed commercial information instead of tightly controlled company secrets commonly associated with competitive development will be help to straighten the learning curve of a much needed technology (3).

My colleagues seem to have mixed views on the practice of CCS.   The reliability of CO2 available to inject for enhanced oil recovery is a serious dilemma.  How can we implement CCS on a grand scale without the Co2 delivery infrastructure in place?  It is my opinion that this is only a reality because we have not been able to convince investors or the public that CCS is a reliable and safe science for us to be practicing.   It is true.  Until a CO2 distribution network is constructed, a reliable source of CO2 will be a pressing concern.  The practice of CO2 injection for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) has been going on for decades.  EOR is being practiced in areas where we have already disturbed the natural development of the earth.  It seems to me that one of the biggest fears for my colleagues is what will be the consequences of this CO2 injection?  This is also a concern of mine.  It perplexes me that some are so willing to accept similar risks with hydraulic fracturing, but they are not willing to trust the science behind CCS.

Another fascinating topic raised by one of my colleagues was the idea of pore space ownership.  Just like many battles have been fought over the ownership of groundwater, I foresee the same thing happening with CO2 sequestration.  Who will really own the pore space underground?  On the borders of conflicting countries it’s not so simple.  If you use Texas as an example, the wise governing bodies of Texas legislature have given the landowners the right to the resources below them, unless they have sold them off.

1Environmental Non-Government Organisation (ENGO) perspectives on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)., 2012.  http://cdn.globalccsinstitute.com/sites/default/files/publications/55041/engo-perspectives-carbon-capture-storage.pdf

2Gibbins, J., and Chalmers, H., 2008, Carbon capture and storage: Energy Policy, v. 36, p. 4317–4322.

3Haszeldine, S.R., 2009, Carbon capture and storage: how green can black be?: Science, v. 325, p. 1647–1652.

4International Energy Agency, 2010, Energy Technology Perspectives: , p. 458.

5Metz, B., Davidson, O., Coninck, H. de, Loos, M., and Meyer Leo, 2005, IPCC special report on carbon capture and storage: Cambridge University Press,, p. 443.

6Teng, F., and Tondeur, D., 2007, Efficiency of carbon storage with leakage: physical and economical approaches: Energy, v. 32, p. 540–548.

7U.S. Energy Information Administration; International Energy Outlook, 2011.  Pg. 6

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/pdf/0484%282011%29.pdf

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by | 17 February 2013 · 6:28 pm

Climate Time Horizons, Howarth, and Catastrophic Methane Release

Robert Howarth has been criticized by ANGA[1] (America’s Natural Gas Alliance) for using an unconventional time horizon[2] in his study “Methane and Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations.”  While Howarth’s Paper is seriously flawed (the existing data on natural gas leakage rates is extremely limited[3]), a few pieces are worth salvaging from the flames.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses a baseline 100 year time horizon to measure the radiative forcing caused by gases in the atmosphere, while the Howarth paper uses 20.  MIT Energy Initiative ED Melanie Kenderdine went as far as to say “What he has done in his analysis is deviated from what are accepted standards, accepted by EPA, DOE, the IPCC, European Trading Scheme, California Air Resources Board, where essentially the denominator that they use to calculate the impacts of various greenhouse gases is an agreed upon hundred years; Professor Howarth uses 20 years.”  Kenderdine suggests that Howarth is setting up his GHG comparison outside the realm of scientifically accepted standards—similar to claiming statistical significance at a .20 alpha.

Kenderdine’s characterization is misleading.  While the IPCC does use the 100 year time frame, they also use 20 year, and 500 year periods.  They note that “the choice of the time horizon depends in part on whether the user wishes to emphasize shorter-term processes…or longer term processes that are linked to sustained alterations of the thermal budget.  In addition, if the speed of potential climate change is of greatest interest (rather than the eventual magnitude), then a focus on shorter time horizons can be useful.”[4]

What time frame is most relevant here?  The Howarth paper was clearly aimed at the natural gas industry, in the height of the shale boom.  The golden age of gas[5] is upon us.  If global use of natural gas expands at projected rates, emissions from gas production, transportation, processing, storage, and consumption will have a greater impact due to increased volumes.  The EPA’s recent CO2 rule will likely result in the majority of new power plants built in the US to run on natural gas.  Natural gas leaked into the atmosphere has a Global Warming Potential of 21  over the 100 year time horizon.[6]  Under the 100 year time horizon, it appears very likely that a switch to natural gas could result in a reduction of net radiative forcing over the century—however, the “net” may not be the optimal way to look at the situation.  In 100 years, the damage may well be done.  Consider the following:

1.)    Switching a short time frame GHG for a long time-frame GHG is essentially trading a steeper short term rise for an earlier slope downward.  Natural gas instead of coal, for example, would make short term temperature increases more severe, but long-term temperatures more stable.  This would be OK if ecosystems and economies were robust enough to take the rapid climb—however many impacts are related to seasonal temperature, not long-term averages.[7]

2.)    Feedback loops in the artic make short term changes to temperature more important.[8]  Short-term warming of the permafrost releases additional GHGs.  Sea ice formation is a central hub of the artic ecosystem, and depends to multiple factors, all of which have the potential to ‘snowball’ with near-term warming.  Previously sequestered methane in the artic will be increasingly released into the atmosphere, further increasing the rate of warming as well as extending the period of rapid increase in temperatures.[9]  The most potentially catastrophic example of this has to do with the release of the EIA’s favorite resource for tomorrow: Methane Hydrates.  Previous releases in the Paleocene resulted in 1-8 degree (C) rises in temperature, dependent on latitude.[10]  Methane Hydrates are currently stabilized along continental margins, and the exact amount of forcing that would trigger a release is unknown.[11]

Because climate stabilization must occur before the ‘tipping point,’  I would argue that short-time frames are essential in consideration of emissions.  How fortunate that policymakers operate in 1-4 year time horizons.


[3]  US Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990/2007 (EPA, 2009)

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Insurance, Water, Electricity, and Climate Change

As discussed in class, the validity of climate change is inevitable; the cumulative evidence that exists in support of climate change will eventually lead to a unanimous consensus [1]. However, it is important to know how climate change might be affecting us today.

In a recent article on the website Co.Exist (which I encourage all of you to regularly visit), Terry Tamminen adopts an interesting approach to assessing how climate change will play a significant role this year in four markets: insurance, water, real estate, and electricity. I offer my opinions on each of his analyses. Tamminen writes that the Insurance Information Institute recorded national insured losses of close to $36 billion in 2011 “from record-setting extreme weather catastrophies” [2].  While this is a significantly high number, the chart from the III puts things into perspective [3]. There definitely seems to be a higher frequency of losses post-1988 compared to pre-1988. In fact, it seems like the three years with the highest insured losses on record were all after 1994. Tamminen is perhaps right on the trend of increasing insurance costs.

 

Another kind of disaster discussed in the article is drought. In our class last Thursday, Mark Strama alluded to a general consensus in Texas that water is one of the state’s biggest concerns [5]. Spicewood Beach, a town not too far from Austin in Burnet County, has become the first town in Texas to officially run out of water [4]. The town is currently transporting in their water from miles away and costs the agency roughly $1000 a day. In 2011, Texas experienced its driest year since 1917, and if it continues this way, it’s not unimaginable to see these costs being passed down to consumers in the foreseeable future.

Tamminen discusses how the cost of coastal real estate will also rise as a consequence of preparing for more intense storms. But the last – and perhaps the most interesting – argument he makes is that the cost of electricity bills will go down. In California, specifically, the Energy Commission has been releasing some fairly detailed guidelines on the energy consumption of household goods. The 2010 edition, for example, has a stipulation that “a television shall automatically enter … stand-by mode after a maximum of 15 minutes without video and/or audio output” [6]. Tamminen believes that regulations like these, along with higher standards on chargers, will save $306 million a year off Californian energy bills, because they will have to build capacity for a lower peak load. I couldn’t find the source of this information, but a quick look at the USA’s energy consumption seems to imply that our energy consumption has reduced its rate of growth, while we consumed less in the years 2008-2010 compared to 2007 [7]:

While history has definitely shown that we can consume less, it’s hard to say definitively whether per unit energy costs will go down as a result of these measures. We trade energy on a global market, and the rising energy consumption of countries like China, India, and Brazil will probably have a bigger impact on the cost of energy compared to progressive local standards.

Do you agree/disagree with Tamminen’s views? Do you think he missed other important indicators?

[1] Dr. Webber’s Lecture on Energy, Technology, & Policy. The University of Texas at Austin, April 3, 2012

[2] 3 Things That Will Cost More in 2012, Terry Tamminen. http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679610/3-things-that-will-cost-more-in-2012

[3] http://www.iii.org/facts_statistics/catastrophes-us.html

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/us/texas-drought-forces-town-to-haul-in-water-by-truck.html?_r=1

[5] Mark Strama’s Lecture on Energy, Technology, & Policy. The University of Texas at Austin, April 5, 2012

[6] http://www.energy.ca.gov/2010publications/CEC-400-2010-012/CEC-400-2010-012.PDF

[7] Data from EIA Annual Energy Review.

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Graham Drops Climate Bill

After nearly 6 months of planning, it appears that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has quit working on the latest climate change legislation bill, in lieu of a decision by the Obama administration and senate democrats to prioritize immigration reform [1].  The draft bill, which was also supported by senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) (hence the nickname KGL) has had some details leaked to the public over the past several months.  These included an overall cap on carbon dioxide emissions beginning in 2012, with the aim of reducing US carbon dioxide emissions 17% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Some measures to achieve these reductions include [2]:

  • Tax on transport fuels linked to the carbon content and price of carbon in other markets
  • Cap-and-trade scheme for some sectors, with a portion of the revenue redistributed to consumers as rebates
  • Price collar to maintain the price of carbon between $10-30/tC
  • $10 billion for clean coal [3]
  • Construction of 12 new nuclear power plants [3]

This latest setback comes on the heels of other recent climate change legislation, most notably the American Clean Energy and Security Act (sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman [D-CA]).  The ACESA had proposed to reduce carbon emissions 20% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 (relative to 2005).  Although the proposed legislation passed the House 219-212 [4], the bill has since languished in senate committees and is unlikely to reemerge [5].

Garnering bi-partisan support for climate legislation is expected to be difficult (although another recent climate bill, supported by Susan Collins and Maria Cantwell is a laudable effort at bipartisanship [6]).  Disappointingly, some environmentalists groups opposed the KGL bill–most vocal was Greenpeace,  who blasted it complaining that it had been “hijacked by lobbyists” [3].  Given the concessions to industry, including a provision barring the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide, there may be some truth to this statement.  However, it is hard to imagine that a tougher bill would have any hope of passing congress–Kerry and Lieberman both scored 100% on the League of Conservation Voters environmental scorecard for 2009 [7].

Although the KGL bill does not do enough to address climate change, it is a significant step in more or less the right direction.  At a high level, the bill is not vastly different from the EU’s plan to cut carbon emissions by 20% (albeit from 1990 levels) by 2020.  The current price of carbon in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has hovered between 12-14 euro ($16-19) since the Copenhagen summit in December.  This falls at the low end of the $10-30 price range proposed by KGL.  However, there is no guarantee that this bill will be passed this year, or indeed at all, and the carbon cap proposed would not even go into affect until 2012.  While the bickering about climate legislation in congress is bound to drag for months if not years, the Europeans have been paying for their pollution since January, 2005 [8].

[1] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/36301.html

[2] http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/03/details-kerry-graham-lieberman-energy-reform-bill-leaked.php

[3] http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/04/greenpeace-attacks-kerrys-climate-bill-preview/

[4] http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h2454/actions_votes

[5] http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=453e3a8e-336b-41d0-a950-3ab25de2f473

[6] http://www.economist.com/world/united-states/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15453166

[7] http://www.lcv.org/scorecard/

[8] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/emission/ets_post2012_en.htm

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The battle over bottled water

In 2008 Americans consumed 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water. The global bottled water volume is expected to reach 174 billion liters in 2011, an increase of 51% over 2006. Once seen as a luxury, the consumption of bottled water became more commonplace as more and more bottlers entered the scene and bottled water came to be seen as a ” very easy and healthy way to stay hydrated and refreshed”. The bottled water industry manufactured demand by claiming their products to be healthier than tap water which was portrayed to be impure and unsafe. However the industry lost some of its luster when it was revealed that 40% of bottled water was nothing but filtered municipal tap water. With economic recession and increased awareness about pollution and climate change issues there is a growing backlash against bottled water

The bottled water industry is facing the most severe criticism in years with critics becoming increasingly vocal about the environmental impacts of bottled water. The Pacific institute, a sustainability think tank released a report which said that bottle production consumed 17 million barrels of oil equivalent in 2006. This did include the energy consumed in pumping and processing water form the sources in Fiji and Finland , transporting it to consumers in the United States and refrigeration. This brings the annual fossil fuel footprint of fossil fuel consumption in United States to 50 million barrels of oil equivalent . Overall it said, producing bottled water for Americans emitted more than 2.5 million tons of Carbon dioxide. Bottled water production is primarily wasteful with a 1 kg bottle of water consuming around 7 kgs of water to produce and transport. Another issue is the disposal of plastic bottles. Only around 20% of all bottles used end up being recycled. The remaining are buried in landfills where they remain for almost a thousand years without decomposing.

Several organizations have become actively involved in educating the public about the impact of the bottled water industry. On the occasion of World Water Day on 22nd March 2010, Corporate Accountability International released a video titled “The Story of Bottled Water” which showed how companies manufactured demand for bottled water as a part of its “Thinking outside the bottle campaign”. In June 2008, the US conference of Mayors voted to ban bottled water from city halls across the country except during emergencies. San Francisco canceled its city spending on bottled water in 2007, saving nearly $500,000 annually. David de Rothschild is traveling around the world in a boat made of plastic bottles lashed together to increase awareness of the waste produced by bottling water and to promote recycling. The campaigns seem to be having an impact with bottled water sales falling 3.3% in the United States in 2008 and continuing to fall in 2009.

The bottled water companies are however not giving up without a fight. In response to the ” The Story of Bottled Water” video, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) released a press statement to refute the allegations made in the video. According to the press statement “The video completely ignores an important aspect of bottled water. In times of emergency, bottled water is always there when you need it. Floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, boil alerts and other events often compromise municipal water systems. IBWA members contribute millions of gallons of water each year to the affected victims. Lifesaving bottled water cannot be available in times of pressing need without a viable, functioning industry to produce it.” It also released a video called “Good Stewards” which focused on the sustainability initiatives taken by various bottlers.

The use of bottled water in countries without a reliable and efficient municipal water system is justified. However recent reports show that over 90% of bottled water consumption is in developed countries which have an efficient municipal system in place. With more than 1 billion people around the globe still lacking access to a safe and reliable source of water, the $100 billion the developed world spends on bottled water every year could certainly be put to better use creating and maintaining safe public water infrastructure everywhere.

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