Welcome, Ensia!

Ensia calls itself “a new magazine and event series showcasing environmental solutions in action.”

Read that description carefully and you’ll see how this media venture  got its  name. It took me a while.

Even as the traditional press continues to shrink–my former employer, Time Inc., just this week eliminated another 500 jobs, or 6% of its workforce–new outlets arise. I’ve been particularly impressed lately by the work of such nonprofit underwriters of journalism as Pro Publica, EnvironmentalHealthNews and the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Ensia, too, is a nonprofit, published by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, which formerly published a magazine called Momentum, and funded by a major grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which supports environmental causes.

voice-green-investing-gunther-mainI’m pleased to be a contributor. Jon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment (and a lively presence on Twitter as @globalecoguy), asked me to write an occasional opinion piece about business and sustainability. My first one looks at some issues raised by Bill McKibben’s campaign to get institutional investors to divest from fossil fuel companies, and how individual investors might want to think about divesting. Here’s how it begins:

In the investing world, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. When it comes to climate science, predicting the future is more straightforward: If we burn all of the fossil fuels on the books of the big oil, coal and gas companies—2,795 gigatons, to be precise—or even most of them, we’re headed for trouble. Bill McKibben, the writer and environmental activist, calls this global warming’s terrifying new math. In response, McKibben and his allies at 350.org have launched a coast-to-coast campaign to persuade colleges, universities, churches, foundations and, yes, people like you and me, to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry.

“It does not make sense,” McKibben says, “to invest my retirement money in a company whose business plan means that there won’t be an earth to retire on.”

His logic is unassailable. But divestment alone won’t deliver the change we need—only political action can do that. And, while it is possible to cleanse your personal portfolio of fossil fuels, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Here’s why.

You can read the rest of the column here. I’m going to dive into this topic in more depth here on the blog in a day or two.

Meantime, browse around Ensia. I think it’s off to a good start.

Natural gas: friend or foe of sustainability?

Most environmentalists would cheer the discovery of cheaper ways to generate electricity from wind or solar power. They would lament the news that prices are dropping for dirty fuels like coal or oil. But what about natural gas? Are abundant supplies and low prices for natural gas good for the environment–or not? Is natural gas a “bridge” to a clean energy future? Or is it a detour?

That’s the topic of a free webinar that I will moderate on Tuesday, November 30, with natural-gas experts Geoff Styles and David Hone at The Energy Collective. To register, click here.

These aren’t hypothetical questions, of course. Natural gas supplies are growing and prices are down. As The Walt Street Journal reported last year:

A massive natural-gas discovery… in northern Louisiana heralds a big shift in the nation’s energy landscape. After an era of declining production, the U.S. is now swimming in natural gas.

…Huge new fields also have been found in Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. One industry-backed study estimates the U.S. has more than 2,200 trillion cubic feet of gas waiting to be pumped, enough to satisfy nearly 100 years of current U.S. natural-gas demand.

Some people will tell you this flood of natural gas will displace coal, and thereby reduce carbon emissions. This was the theme of a recent [click to continue...]