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October 27, 2014

Clearing the air

After battling heavy smog since last Wednesday, the Chinese government is scrambling to clear the air before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on Saturday, Reuters reported today. The China National Environmental Monitoring Centre said that central and southern parts of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region would face “severe pollution.” To deal with the problem, the government is imposing its strictest pollution controls since the 2008 Summer Olympics by sending workers home in early, restricting traffic and closing hundreds of industrial plants within a 200-km radius of the capital.

Embracing vulnerability

Another major city is trying to address its environmental problems: New York City has hired a Dutch water-management expert as a senior adviser to the Presidential Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Henk Ovink told the New York Times on Saturday that he aims to build an infrastructure ecosystem that will make the city more resilient in the face of storms. “For that to happen, we have to live with the water, to understand it, while still understanding our vulnerabilities,” he said. Hurricane Sandy hit the city two years ago this week, but many of projects, while relatively small in scale, are yet to be completed. It will likely take years and billions of dollars before the full system is in place, said the New York Times.

Keeping up with the Jones’

A new paper published in The Journal of Economic Geography shows that if you install solar panels on your home, your neighbours are more likely to do the same. The paper analyzes the growth of rooftop solar power across the state of Connecticut, which started offering solar subsidies in 2005. Vox reported that a few hotspots popped up that year across the state, and since then, solar panels have “spread out from those clusters in a ‘wave-like centrifugal pattern.’”

Capturing sunlight

Renewable energy has been criticized for its unreliability since no one can control when the sun will shine or when the wind will blow. But, massive energy-storage projects are starting to push back against the naysayers. Yale360 reported today that the lithium-ion battery installations in the California mountains and compressed air caverns under the Utah desert that have recently been announced, are a significant step forward for the industry. While improvements in reliability, safety, regulation and costs present significant challenges, several state governments, including New York, Hawaii and Washington, have begun pushing for large storage plans to be incorporated into their grids.

Naming and shaming

Corporate Knights’ own Tyler Hamilton looked at whether naming and shaming companies for worker injuries would help to make workplaces safer. Posting information about injuries and illnesses online could encourage employers to prioritize the safety of their employees and would allow prospective employees to compare companies. But some people say an expanded “name and shame” rule in the United States could unfairly damage companies’ reputations. Others wonder whether employers’ time would be better spent training employees on health and safety standards. Corporate Knights took the middle ground saying that workplace safety disclosure standards need improvement, but companies should only be required to self-report this data in their quarterly and annual reports.

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