Archive for the ‘Environmental Hazard’ Category

Caring for Creation

Thursday, December 10th, 2015


Land and Water Conference at Brown University

Friday, September 4th, 2015
Land and Water Conference at Brown University

Land and Water Conference at Brown University

Today, I attended the Land and Water Conference at Brown University. I was particularly interested in hearing the keynote address delivered by John M. Barry, the best-selling author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America and The Great Influenza: the Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, among other books. His book on the flu has been updated to address the H1N1 (Swine) Flu epidemic, drawing on lessons learned from previous pandemics. Following Hurricane Katrina, John Barry chaired, at the request of the Louisiana congressional delegation, a bipartisan working group on flood protection.

In addition to the keynote address, the conference offered panel discussions. I was particularly interested in “The Anthropocene” which addressed how climate change disrupted societies in the past, such as the ice age in Europe and examined lessons learned about climate disruption on vulnerable groups. The panelists considered the implications of climate change for farming, food security, water access, mass migration and resource utilization. I found the presentations to be provocative, as they caused me to reflect on how we in the small business community can address community and global resilience by addressing environmental resource utilization. I plan to write more on these topics in the near future.



Environmental Metrics

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
Measuring Savings

Measuring Savings

There is an old saying that “what is measured, is managed” so I am always intrigued to see ways of measuring the impacts of small steps we can each take to reduce our environmental footprint/carbon emissions to reduce disaster impacts. This dispenser provides filtered water to employees of a Fortune 500 company. Each floor has one to encourage use. The dispenser is equipped with an automatic sensor. Once you place your refillable bottle underneath the spout, filtered water is dispensed and the small green screen at the top right of the unit tracks the number of refills as “Helped eliminate waste from 13,457 disposable plastic bottles”. The dispenser is an effective reminder of the cumulative benefits of avoiding disposable plastic water bottles that only wind up in landfills.

NuRide is another service that measures and rewards individual efforts to reduce environmental impacts. You can sign up for NuRide and use the service to find a ride-share or a car-pooling buddy. You can also create a free account and enter details of when and where you took public transportation, shared a ride with someone or walked or biked to your destination. You earn points for these efforts and they add up to rewards such as free admission to cultural events or discounts on purchases. I am trying to work out a model of how we would measure improved small business commercial resiliency measures and, in an analytically rigorous way, translate those measures into reduced premiums commensurate with better risk practices. So I find these models helpful and, of course, use both.

Impact of Climate Change on the Gulf Coast

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Looking Into the FutureA new study released by Entergy Corporation reports that climate change, economic development and land subsidence risks could cost communities in the Gulf Coast states over $350 billion in cumulative economic losses in the next 20 years. Already, wind and storm surge damage today cost this region $14 billion annually. But by 2010, such losses could reduce GDP by 2 – 3 percent each year.

The study on the economics of climate adaptation across the Gulf Coast states examined 77 coastal parishes and counties in four energy-producing states, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The analysis focused on the potential impact of natural hazards on key sectors to the regional economy, particularly the electric utility and oil and gas industries. My former employer, Swiss Reinsurance Company, contributed its expertise to this research. To read the report, “Shaping Climate-Resilient Development”, click here.

Ban On Deepwater Drilling Lifted

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

The Obama administration lifted the moratorium on deepwater drilling, citing new environmental and safety regulations that it believes significantly reduce the risk of another major accident. The moratorium was originally scheduled to end on November 30. Whether the early release will have any benefit to the economies of the Gulf Coast states remains to be seen. Oil companies believe that ending the moratorium was a meaningless gesture, because they continue to face lengthy processes for drilling permits required to resume their work. For small businesses in the Gulf Coast states, where the oil and gas industry is a major contributor to employment, it will be some time before they see normal business activity.

The More Things Change..

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

A draft report released by a White House commission charged with examining the government’s response to the Gulf Coast oil spill revealed responses that are consistent in our national approach to disasters:

  • An initial assessment by the White House that was “over-optimistic” as to the extent of the damages, resulting in delays in bringing the necessary resources to bear in containing the damage;
  • The government’s initial reports to the public concerning scientific data on the spill damage were misleading; and
  • Conflicts between state and local officials and the federal government confounded recovery work.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune presents an excellent summary of the report. With respect to disaster response and recovery, we are simply wasting too many resources reinventing the wheel. You could redact the words “oil spill” from the report and replace them with “Hurricane Katrina” and the findings would be largely unchanged. We need a forward-looking approach to disaster response that reflects what we have learned to date.

Hungary Fortifies Against A Second Leak

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Toxic Mud in HungaryHungary suffered an unimaginable environmental disaster last week when toxic sludge leaked from an alumina plant, prompting an evacuation of nearly all 800 residents of the town of Kolontar. Red sludge is the byproduct of refining bauxite into alumina, the essential component of aluminum. The sludge is typically treated to reduce its alkalinity, resulting in a final byproduct of harmless red clay. Unfortunately, that treatment was not practiced at this particular plant such that when the sludge leak flooded local villages, it killed at least seven people and injured more than 100 more, causing severe burns. Approximately 184 million gallons of the toxic red sludge were released into the environment.

But there may be more leaks to follow. Local authorities just discovered expanding cracks on the plant reservoir wall. They believe that the wall could collapse within the week. Emergency teams are racing against time to fortify the facility against a second leak before the next rainstorm. Sadly, environmental disasters continue to increase in frequency and severity.

This photograph shows a view from space of the toxic mud leak in Hungary, courtesy of NASA.

“Rapid” Response is Not Fast Enough

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell Oil Company pledged $1 billion to create a “rapid response system” to address any future oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. The system is still under development, but preliminary plans calls for “capture vessels” to contain and store oil in the event of an underwater well rupture. The system will be operational at depths of up to 10,000 feet with containment capacity of 100,000 barrels daily. The Marine Well Containment Company, a non-profit organization, will operate and maintain the system. The four oil companies plan to begin immediately the engineering and design of the containment equipment and vessels for the system.

No doubt the announcement was welcome by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who spoke at an “Economic Survival Rally” to call for an end to the ban on deep sea drilling for oil and natural gas. Jindal estimated that the ban could cause the loss of 20,000 jobs in Louisiana over the next year. The situation with Louisiana’s oil and gas industry is analogous, in some respects, to our own situation in New York City. An entire ecosystem of small businesses is built around the principal industries of oil and gas in Louisiana and financial services in New York. When that mainstay industry experiences a reversal of fortune, the consequences to the community small businesses are especially severe. The difference, of course, is that we need energy to fuel our economy. Arguably, reduced employment on Wall Street, while painful locally in New York, might not be bad for the rest of the country.

NOAA’s Oil Spill Scenario

Monday, July 5th, 2010
Spread Scenario

Spread Scenario

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has performed a simulation analysis on the possible dispersions of the oil spill, assuming leakage of 33,000 barrels per day that continues for 90 days. NOAA believes that under this scenario, there is an 80% probability that the oil slicks will move east of Florida and then north, effectively going around the peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean. There is a 20% chance that the oil spill could continue north up the Atlantic as far as Charleston, South Carolina, while also dispersing to the west to travel as far as Corpus Christi, Texas.  In the worst-case scenario, to which NOAA assigns a less than 1% probability, the oil slick could spread down to southern Mexico and the Caribbean region. We really should have immediately accepted the offer of the Netherlands to contain the spill quickly using their technology. Washington’s dithering and blame game puts our own interests and the interests of other countries at risk.

A Tin Ear in Washington

Monday, June 21st, 2010

A Tin Ear in Washington DC

A Tin Ear in Washington DC

Kenneth Feinberg, the man appointed by President Obama to administer a $20 billion fund to compensate Gulf Coast oil spill victims, promised to speed claims payments even as a federal judge considers a lawsuit to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling. The U.S. Department of the Interior stopped the approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling at more than 30 existing exploratory wells in the Gulf of Mexico. But Hornbeck Offshore Services of Louisiana filed a lawsuit in which it claimed that the government acted arbitrarily without any proof that the operations posed a safety risk. Hornbeck claims that the moratorium causes additional hardship to Louisiana, which stands to lose thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industry, even as its fishing and tourism industries are already devastated by the oil spill. Today, Judge Martin Feldman heard arguments in the case in New Orleans federal court. He will issue his ruling by Wednesday. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal filed a brief with the court supporting the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. What is most outrageous about the federal government is that it did not consult Louisiana officials before imposing the moratorium, in violation of federal law. U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas in Houston listened to the New Orleans court hearing today by telephone. She is hearing a similar case against the federal government filed by a Texas-based operator of drilling rigs. Let’s hope that the judges send the federal government a clear message about abuse of power and overreach.