Are Golf Courses Negatively Impacting the Environment?

Summer is just around the corner, and for many people that means the beginning of a new season hitting the links! I must admit that like many others, I can’t wait to get out on the golf course and play a round or two. That being said, after last season and entering the MEnv program, I began considering the potential environmental hazards associated with the construction and maintenance of golf courses. Are these beautiful emerald green courses really as green as they appear?

Many areas in North America are becoming more and more fragmented with new golf courses every year. In 2009, Florida alone had 1144 golf courses throughout the state, spanning a total area of just over 860 square kilometers [1]. Many of these courses are located in areas on shore lines or in sensitive ecological areas such as the Florida Everglades, as shown by this map of all the courses in 2009.

Not only are many of these courses situated in sensitive areas, but many of them use fertilizers and pesticides which are not only potentially harmful to ecosystems, but are also potential carcinogens for humans [2]. A 2006 study showed that U.S. golf courses used on average 112% of nitrogen and 187% of potash per acre used to fertilize corn crops [3]. In plain English this means more fertilizer was used per acre on U.S. golf courses than to grow corn. The result of this over use of fertilizers is the potential for eutrophication, adding an unintentional greenness to water bodies around golf courses, as is evident in the following image.

Furthermore, there is significant concern over the sustainability of the approximate use of 300,000 gallons a day of water for maintenance of U.S. golf courses, especially in areas of California which have sunken by more than a foot in 9 years due to aquifer demand [4]. While these concerns are well documented, there is a lack of regulation associated with golf courses. In Canada, many pesticides are banned for cosmetic use on properties, but golf courses have been exempt from the regulations [5]. It seems about time that governments do a better job to recognize the environmental concerns related to golf courses, and consider thresholds for required EIA of golf courses. British Columbia does currently have “golf resorts” built into its EIA legislation, stating that the resort must occupy an area greater than 200 hectares and possess more than 600 commercial bed units [6]. Considering an average 18 hole golf course requires 120-200 acres, the equivalent of about 50 to 80 hectares, not many new courses will require environmental impact assessments [7].

However, many golf course owners have realized the need to promote good environmental management of their courses. Alan Morton, owner of Golf Griffon Des Sources in Mirabel, Quebec, has implemented woodland corridors throughout his course to reduce habitat fragmentation as well as the use of liquid compost treatment to reduce the need for pesticides [5]. Even the great Nick Faldo, who now designs golf courses after a successful PGA career, promotes the notion that “as the world’s natural landscapes become more endangered, our most fundamental job as course designers is to create beautiful playing venues that also preserve and protect the environment” [8]. Golf courses may have the potential to cause environmental degradation, but the golf community also has an opportunity to be a leader in terms of sustainable development. As more courses are inevitably created, they should be designed in an environmentally friendly manner, so that we can keep enjoying the sport for years to come.

References

[1] Florida Geographic Data Library. (2009). Florida Golf Courses in 2009. Retrieved March 25th 2015, from http://www.fgdl.org/metadata/fgdc_html/par_golf_09.fgdc.htm

[2] Knopper, L., & Lean, D. (2004). Carcinogenic And Genotoxic Potential Of Turf Pesticides Commonly Used On Golf Courses. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 7(4), 267-279.

[3] Environmental Institute for Golf (2006). Golf Course Environmental Profile. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.eifg.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/golf-course-environmental-profile-nutrient-report.pdf

[4] Barton, J. (2008). How Green if Golf? Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.golfdigest.com/images/magazine/2008/05/gd200805golfenvironment.pdf

[5] Oosthoek, S., (2011). How Golf Courses Are Getting Greener. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/top-employers/how-golf-courses-are-getting-greener/article577697/

[6] British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act Reviewable Projects Regulation(2012) Retrieved March 26th 2015, from http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/370_2002

[7] American Society of Golf Architects. (n.d.) FAQ: How much land do I need to build a golf course? Retrieved March 27th 2015, from http://www.asgca.org/frequently-asked-questions/174

[8] Nick Faldo Design. (n.d.). Sustainability. Retrieved March 27th 2015, from http://nickfaldodesign.com/sustainability

Sustainability: What’s that supposed to mean?

The Importance of Water

Humankind is entirely dependent on water, including for energy. “Water and energy are strongly interlinked: water is required to produce, transport and use all forms of energy to some degree” (UNESCO, 2014, p.12).

Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Water Development Report (WWDR) ranked Canada among the richest countries in the world for water (UNESCO, 2014). However, this allows for an energy policy that further permits the production of Canadian oil-sands in Alberta, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions and water use, a policy of which is unsustainable. See the video below for a short explanation of the Alberta oil sands production process.

Sustainability

According to Environment Canada (2014), sustainability is “about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently…It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels – citizens, industry, and governments.” It follows that “using resources efficiently” and “action” from citizens are important parts of energy policy development. If this is what is meant by sustainability, though, I have problems understanding the relevance of its emphasis throughout Government documents.

The democratic process ceases to exist at the policy level, for example, in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) sees SEA as a method to evaluate Canadian Energy Policies (CEAA, 2014). According to the CEAA (2014), there are no SEAs that exist at this time nor have there ever been any, regarding Canada’s energy policy. This is not sustainable, since incorporating citizen action at the policy level, according to Environment Canada’s own definition of sustainable, is virtually non-existent.

Oil-sands development has some of the most adverse effects. According to David Harvey of the University of Toronto: “Tar sands oil entails 5-60% more greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than conventional oil” (ForestEthics, 2013, p.6).

According to the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), in 2012, the Alberta oil-sands operations alone produced 50,285,958.95 tons/CO2eq. Comparatively, the entire province of Quebec produced 17,765,573 tons/CO2eq for the same year. Furthermore, in Canada, it takes about 7-10 M3 of water to produce 1 M3 of Bitumen, the raw oil-sand from Alberta that still requires further processing into crude oil, which itself requires more energy (NRCAN, 2014). This is not sustainable, since it takes about 7-10 times the amount of water to produce 1 unit (barrel, gallon, litre, etc.) of oil. This is not using resources efficiently.

Even a Life-Cycle Assessment shows treatment disparity between conventional energy (fossil fuels), nuclear and renewables (Ecolateral, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.44.44 PM

Sustainability is more like “sustainability”. It is clear that Canadian energy policies do not live up to Canada’s own definition of sustainability, not only by erosion of the democratic process but also by way of one of the most inefficient uses of one of the most precious resources in the world: water, on which all of humankind depends. This is compounded by the exponentially increasing amount of carbon entering the atmosphere every day, the air you and I breath. In any sense of the definition, how does this sound sustainable and in light of these facts, how can we truly believe that our Government is handling our resources in the most sustainable fashion?

For more information on the current politics of fossil-fuel development, please visit:

http://www.greenworldrising.org/#!ep2-carbon/clzn

References

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2014. The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Accessed on January 8th, 2014. Available from: https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=B3186435-1

Environment Canada, 2014. Facility GHG emissions by province/territory.

Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/donnees-data/index.cfm?do=province&lang=En&year=2012.

Environment Canada, 2014. Sustainable Development. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/dd-sd/

ForestEthics Advocacy, 2013. Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Natural Resources Canada, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/oil-sands/water-management/5865.

Oil Sands Information Portal, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://osip.alberta.ca/library/Dataset/Details/443.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2014. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water and Energy. (1).

Is India on pace to be more environmentally friendly or to make the environment a business?

Being a developing country, India’s primary goal is to develop economically and environmentally, according to Prakash Javadekar, the country’s newly elected Minister for Environment and Forests [1].  In May 2014, he initiated his duties by increasing the efficiency of the EIA online system and by speeding the process of EIA approvals in India. In his first 100 days, about 240 of 325 projects received environmental clearance which had been halted by the previous government [2].

A key question arises: with the EIA notification in India having already changed more than 100 times before now [3] and with the speed of developments and Environmental Clearances sanctioned by the new government, will the objective for which the EIA process is designed be maintained or will the environment be treated as only a business?

The EIA notification in 2006 itself is important to recall here. It was a notification intervening in the 1994 notification, and gave more opportunities to the State Governments, gave rights to the funding agencies like the World Bank to implement their own methods for Environmental Clearance, reduced the public hearing procedures with the exclusion of the Panchayats (local people assembly), and much more [4]. Since then drastic changes are visible every time a new minister takes the charge.

In the last six months, the following activities occurred, boosting up development and focusing on the protection of the Environment.

  • In July 2014, an online system was initiated for the submission and the monitoring of forest clearance projects. [5]

Untitled

Online system initiation and designation as a Business. [11]

  • In December 2014, a notification was issued where the Environment Ministry exempted the building of schools, colleges, industrial sheds etc., up to an area of 150,000m2 from needing a prior clearance for construction [6].
  • On January 21, 2015 approximately 50 utility projects including railways, roadways, power, irrigation etc were given a speedy clearance.[7]
  • In January, 2015 US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi teamed up to combat climate change and support India’s ambition in the excellent project of huge investment in the renewable energy sector[8].
  • Investment of 100 billion dollars in clean energy projects achieving Sustainable development.
  • Many other projects have been in the pipeline like the cleaning of the river Ganga in next five years [9], stringent air pollution norms, stringent norms for the industries, and the list goes on.

environment-graphic-i

Suggestions to be amendments or new laws [12]

Based on these rapid developments and changes, there are some concerns among people. “We were in trouble with the last government and we are in even more trouble with this government. Rather than try to reform the system, they are picking at the edges.” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) [10].

The new political party coming in force in India is bringing huge changes within a short period of time concerning the development of the country, along with the protection of the environment and towards sustainable development. There is much more to come as time passes. But, within this context, somewhere the question remains unsolved: Will this pace of development with upcoming and future projects, rapid clearances of projects and attention driven approaches, change the main objective and the purpose for which assessment of impacts and clearances of projects are carried out?  Or will it move in the right direction?

References:

[1] Singh N. (2014, September 11). Javadekar clears all files in 100 Days. Is Modi Ministry Compromising on Environment? International Business Times. Retrieved on January 24, 2015 from http://www.ibtimes.co.in/javadekar-clears-all-files-100-days-modi-ministry-compromising-environment-608875

[2]Chauhan C..(2014, September 11). Prakash Javadekar clears 240 projects in 3 months. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 10, 2015 from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/on-fast-track-environment-minister-prakash-javadekar-clears-240-projects-in-3-months/article1-1262676.aspx

[3] Chauhan C..(2013, November 11). Environment Impact Assessment changed 100 times in less than 7 years. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from  http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/environment-impact-assessment-changed-100-times-in-less-than-7-years/article1-1149633.aspx

[4] Lemmer, J. A. (2006). Cleaning Up Development: EIA in Two of the World’s Largest and Most Rapidly Developing Countries. Geo. Int’l Envtl. L. Rev., 19, 275.

[5] ET Bureau..(2014, July 16). Environment ministry unveils online system for submission and monitoring of forest clearance proposals. Industry ,The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 1, 2015  from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/environment-ministry-unveils-online-system-for-submission-and-monitoring-of-forest-clearance-proposals/articleshow/38447247.cms

[6] Dhoot V.( 2015, January 6). Make in India: Government removes arbitrary environmental clearance to facilitate projects. Policy, The Economic Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-06/news/57748024_1_environment-ministry-clearance-environment-management

[7] PTI. (2015, January 21). Over 50 public utility projects get Environment Ministry panel nod, Infrastructure. The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-21/news/58306062_1_lac-environment-ministry-general-approval

[8] ET Bureau. (2015, January 26). Obama in India: PM Narendra Modi, Barack Obama strike alliance on climate change; air pollution, renewable energy focus areas. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-26/news/58470064_1_climate-change-navroz-dubash-climate-talks

[9] PTI. (2015, January 21). Ganga will transform in five years: Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-03/news/57633790_1_ganga-river-clean-ganga-campaign-environment-ministry

[10] Reuters. (2014, October 10). India Approves Projects In Dash For Growth, Alarming Green Groups. International Business Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from http://www.ibtimes.com/india-approves-projects-dash-growth-alarming-green-groups-1702680

[11] Mohan V. (2014, June 6). Green clearances go online with time limits for approvals. The Times of India. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Green-clearances-go-online-with-time-limits-for-approvals/articleshow/36118057.cms

[12] Mohan V. (2015, January 5). Govt moots ideas to sync green norms with growth. ET Auto.com, An initiative of the Economic Times, Retrieved  on February 5, 2015 from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/auto/news/policy/govt-moots-ideas-to-sync-green-norms-with-growth/articleshow/45756396.cms

Forests for sale: REDD+, conservation and the displacement of Indigenous populations

“REDD (schemes known collectively as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) will increase the violation of our human rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts.”

[1] International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) statement, November 2007

papua2

Photo: Mark Gudmens

Conservation is a dirty word in some circles, stemming from a lengthy history of further marginalizing already vulnerable populations. With (what should be) all eyes on the current quest to reduce atmospheric carbon emission rates, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is being pushed as an effective solution to the global carbon crisis. Despite inherent shortcomings, there is still time to ensure that it becomes a useful framework for all aspects of impact assessment and serves the needs of local communities directly affected by it.

Early Conservation efforts

The conservation of “wilderness” for the benefits of developed nations is not a new idea, with early political powers in North America designating huge tracts of land, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, as National parks [2]. By restricting the ways these areas were occupied and using a colonial framework of conservation and control, indigenous presence was erased from the landscape and historical territories grabbed by colonial settlers in order to “protect” western visions of nature [3].

Modern Environmental Conservation efforts

Over 20 percent of the planet’s surface is currently protected through conservation efforts by a handful of BINGOs (Big International Non-Governmental Organizations) [4]. Corporations, like Conservation International (CI), are altruistic in appearance, seeking to protect key global biodiversity hotspots [5]. Under the aegis of conservation, vast tracts of land in the global south have been deemed ecologically important and removed from the stewardship of local indigenous populations, to the detriment of both systems and with no strong social impact assessment (SIA) in place [5]. Additionally, these displaced persons are rarely compensated, becoming further marginalized in the name of conservation.

Thus, the overarching rubric of conservation continues to focus on notions of preservation of the wilds for the betterment of developed nations with little consideration to the indigenous populations that shaped these landscapes through thoughtful stewardship and symbiotic, sustainable relationships.

Enter: The next generation of environmental conservation and REDD+

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) was conceived of during the early push for global solutions to climate change, specifically during the 2005 COP-11 in Montreal, Canada [6]. This video, produced by the REDD desk, gives a brief description of how the program is supposed to incentivize the protection of global forests in the name of carbon offsets for developed nations and international organizations.

Despite the mention of protection for local indigenous communities and opportunities for participation throughout the EIA process, indigenous groups are mistrustful of the proposed REDD+. Due to a lengthy history of marginalization and displacement through colonial domination, many populations in developing nations have chosen to fight the implementation of a program they feel will only serve to line the pockets of rich Westerners and contribute little to actual reductions in carbon emission rates.

A pilot project conducted in Nepal found that the benefits of REDD+ were not fairly distributed between all members of a given community [7]. Although there were evident positive effects of the program, such as meaningful public participation, there is a need for a strong system of social safeguards in order to protect the indigenous populations that live in the regions [7]. Other authors criticize the “top-down” approach of the current REDD+ system and argue for a wider role for indigenous stakeholders in order to protect communities at the local level [8].

In order to create a framework that actually does what it was intended to do, REDD+ social safeguards must be designed with several keys concepts in mind. The importance of a bottom-up approach to the sustainable management of these new spaces is crucial to the success of REDD+. Further to this, a clear and well defined social impact assessment (SIA) that considers the needs of the local communities before the wants of international institutions must be equipped with the power to challenge decisions made by forces removed from the landscape.


References

[1] The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) The 13th Session of Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC SBSTA 27, agenda item 5/REDD Accessed online February 10, 2015. http://www.indigenousclimate.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55&Itemid=59&lang=en

[2] Vaccaro, I., Beltran, O., and Paquet, P. A. 2013. Political ecology and conservation policies: some theoretical genealogies. Journal of Political Ecology, 20. 255-272. Online http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_20/Vaccaro.pdf

[3] Robbins, P. 2012. Political Ecology; a critical introduction, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

[4] Dowie, M. 2010. Conservation Refugees. Cultural Survival; 34, 1. Accessed January 22, 2015. Online http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/none/conservation-refugees

[5] Survival International. November 14, 2014. Parks need peoples. Survival International Report. Accessed online February 6, 2015 http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10546

[6] Agrawal, A., Nepstad, D. and Chhatre, A. 2011. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, vol. 36, p. 373-396. Accessed online February 6, 2015.

[7] Maraseni, T. N., Neupane, P. R., Lopez-Casero, F., and Cadman, T. 2014. An assessment of the impacts of the REDD+ pilot project on community forests user groups (CFUGs) and their community forests in Nepal. Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 136, p. 37-46. Accessed February 6, 2015.

[8] Corbera, E. and Schroeder, H. 2011. Governing and implementing REDD+. Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 14:2, p. 89-99.

When Economists and Ecologists cooperate

*Some argue that William Bruce Cameron is to be credited for this quote

Return on Investment (ROI) measures the profitability of an investment. Simple, right?

Well not quite.

“Keep in mind that the calculation for return on investment and, therefore the definition, can be modified to suit the situation -it all depends on what you include as returns and costs. […]This flexibility has a downside, as ROI calculations can be easily manipulated to suit the user’s purposes.” [1]

When firms in the resource development industry are in the planning phase of any project, they conduct a feasibility study that essentially indicates whether the project will be viable, profitable and realizable. These studies often include complex external factors such as: probability of natural disasters, fluctuations in market value of the commodity being developed, stability of local governments, etc. Rarely, if ever, do these external factors include a project’s impacts on the services of ecological systems, natural capital stocks and/or ecological infrastructure integrated in the particular environment.

“Ecosystem goods and services represent the benefits human populations derive, directly or indirectly, from ecosystem functions. For simplicity, we will refer to ecosystem goods and services together as ecosystem services. […] Capital stock takes different identifiable forms, most notably in physical forms including natural capital, such as trees, minerals, ecosystems, the atmosphere and so on” (Costanza et al., 1997, p. 253-254)

Examples of ecosystem services include: pollination, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, water regulation, etc.

Costanza et al.’s seminal article titled “The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital” attempted to put a dollar amount (in 1997) to the ecosystem services and the natural capital stocks of the world. Through previously published studies and some original calculations, the authors valued the entire biosphere in the range of US$16-54 trillion per year. To put this in perspective, the global gross national product in 1997 was around US$ 18 trillion [2]. With these bold results, the authors opened a forum for debate on the accuracy and merits of their calculations[3][4].

How to account for the value of ecosystem services?

In the TED talk brought to my attention in my colleague’s blog post, Pavan Sukhdev argues

“You can’t really have a proper model for development if at the same time you are destroying or allowing the degradation of the very asset, the most important asset which is your development asset that is ecological infrastructure”

Responding to the innovative calculations put forth by Costanza et al., organizations have begun to coalesce around the monetary assessment of “nature’s goods and services”. Mr. Sukhdev has been at the forefront of this movement by contributing to the UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative as well as taking on a leadership role with The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity (TEEB). TEEB is a global initiative that draws attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity and attempts to quantify the economic invisibility of nature.

The following is a video of M. Sukhdev discussing TEEB

Being led by the World Bank, Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) is another initiative that is implementing the idea of Natural Capital Accounting in partnership with the UNEP, UNDP and several other organizations. This global partnership is helping countries in the developing world to more accurately calculate a GDP that uncovers the cost of impacts to the ecosystem services and natural capital stocks that intense development brings.

Implications with Environmental Impact Assessment

As momentum builds surrounding the valuation of ecosystem service, Michael Cortese and I argue that ecosystem services and natural capital should be fundamentally incorporated into the EIA process. By doing so, it would demonstrate to decision makers a more accurate representation of the currently unaccounted for negative economic impacts to ecosystem services.

If private firms are not held accountable for their impacts on ecosystem services, then there is no incentive for a company to calculate this externality into their feasibility study. If the actual “value” or “cost” of an impact to an ecosystem service could be calculated and included into an EA, the true economic benefits for that project would be revealed. We argue that this could drastically influence the ROI of any proposed project and have enormous impacts on the feasibility of the project.

This blog post was inspired by a podcast called “Worth” by Radiolab that a friend insisted I listen to . It turns out that the guest speaker was Robert Costanza.

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References:

[1]  http://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/returnoninvestment.asp

[2]  Costanza, R. et al. (1997) The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Ecological Economics, Vol 25(1), p. 3-15

[3]  Toman, M. (1997) Why not to calculate the value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Ecological Economics, Vol 25(1), p. 57-60

[4]  Hornborg, A. (1997) Towards an ecological theory of unequal exchange: articulating world system theory and ecological economics, Ecological Economics, Vol 25(1), p. 127-136

Pristine Antarctica: Threatened by science station sewage

by Sara Munčs

Antarctica has long been designated as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”[1]. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, and its’ Protocol on Environmental Protection from 1991, place strict regulations on the different types of activities that can be conducted in the Antarctic [1, 2]. All activities related to mineral resources are prohibited and directives are given on practice related to flora and fauna, marine pollution and protected areas [1]. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) have to be conducted for all activities in order to judge how they may affect the Antarctic environment and its scientific value [3]. One would think that this treaty has covered all bases in order to keep Antarctica the pristine wilderness that it is. However, recent research has brought to light that the very stations aiming to protect the Antarctic may be polluting it due to their waste management strategies [4].

McMurdo Research Station, Photograph by Norbert Wu, Science Faction/ Corbis , Retrieved from

McMurdo Research Station, Photograph by Norbert Wu, Science Faction/ Corbis [4]

Antarctica is home to about 4000 people occupying 82 research bases in the austral summer months and about 1000 people in the winter [5,6]. The Protocol on Environmental Protection accounts for waste management strategies, but while the regulations for chemical waste as well as disposal of garbage and recycling are quite strict, the standards for sewage are much lower [7]. Water treatment is mandatory for stations of 30 people or more but maceration (breaking up all solid components into small pieces) is the only treatment legally required [6, 7]. Only 37% of the permanent stations and 69% of the summer stations actually treat their waste water [6]. The largest station, the United States’ McMurdo station, has only had maceration treatment facilities since 2003 [5, 8].
The potential for pollution from sewage disposal has been recognized for a number of years. Studies have been conducted at sewage discharge points to determine the extent of damage done to the biodiverse sea floor. The following video briefly explains the research conducted by Kathy Conlan from the Canadian Museum of Nature:

The pollutants released from untreated waste water can be organic, such as human pathogens and other microorganisms [6], but can also be persistent toxic chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), a flame retardant that has been detected in Antarctic environments [5]. One of the big problems in both cases is that the cold Antarctic waters allow the pollutants to remain viable for longer periods of time than in warmer temperatures [4,5,6]. Most recently a new type of flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), has been discovered in the sewage sludge released from McMurdo station, in the surrounding environment, and even in the tissue of Adélie penguins [4]. This demonstrates that the pollutants released from the waste water are bioaccumulating up the food chain [4].

Adélie Penguin, Michelle Newnan, National Geographic Your Shot

Adélie Penguin, Michelle Newnan, National Geographic Your Shot [4]

It is clear that regulations regarding the treatment of waste water need to be tightened, however EA could also have a role to play. A cumulative impacts assessment could be of great use to determine the extent of environmental degradation and the main sources of this degradation, so that waste management strategies can be rectified before one of the last pristine environments on the planet is ruined.

REFERENCES

[1] Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty (2011) “The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty” Retrieved from <http://www.ats.aq/e/ep.htm > on March 15th, 2014.
[2] Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty (2011) “The Antarctic Treaty” Retrieved from <http://www.ats.aq/e/ats.htm >  on March 15th, 2014.
[3] Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty (2011) “Environmental Impact Assessment” Retrieved from <http://www.ats.aq/e/ep_eia.htm> on March 15th, 2014.
[4] Holland, J.S. (March 4th, 2014) “Antarctic Research Bases Spew Toxic Wastes Into Environment” for National Geographic. Retrieved from <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140304-antarctica-research-toxic-adelie-penguins-mcmurdo-station-science/> on March 15th, 2014.
[5] Hale R.C. et al. (2008) “Antarctic Research Bases: Local Sources of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE) Flame Retardants” Environmental Science and Technology, 42: 1452–1457.
[6] Gröndahl, F., J. Sidenmark & Thomsen A. (2009) Polar Research, 28: 298–306.
[7] Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. (1991) “Annex III: Waste Disposal and Waste Management” Retrieved from <http://www.ats.aq/documents/recatt/Att010_e.pdf> on March 15th, 2014.
[8] NASA Quest. “Environmental Protection in the Antarctic” Retrieved from <http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/antarctica/background/NSF/facts/fact08.html> on March 15th, 2014.

Do EIA professionals need a Professional Order?

As a student member in Institute for Environmental Management (IEMA) and Assessment and the German Environmental Impact Assessment Society I have gained an insight into voluntary professional organizations that promote best practices, professional development and professional ethics amongst its members.

EIA is sometimes portrayed as a biased regulatory process that allows proponents and consultants to hide or minimize the significance of a project’s environmental impacts. Comparing EIA professionals to Charted Professional Accountants, I will explore, if the work of EIA professionals needs to be regulated and organized in a professional order to ensure impartiality, scientific rigour and professional ethics.

The Adversarial Nature of EIA

In most jurisdictions EIA frameworks, the proponent has the responsibility to describe the project’s potential environmental impacts during the preparation of the environmental impact statement (EIS). This responsibility is often contracted to environmental consultancies or engineering consulting firms who prepare these documents for the proponent [1].

This arrangement has an inherent conflict of interest. The proponent prefers the EIA to find minimal environmental impacts to facilitate the development process and to avoid the imposing of potentially costly mitigation measures. The consultants preparing the EIS are contracted and paid by the proponent to find and assess environmental impacts [2]. The consultants work with uncertain project data provided by the proponent and have to work on a fixed schedule and budget, which prevents them from doing their job properly [2; 1].

Beder [3] notes that EIA professionals generally would not risk their reputation by publishing false date or by omitting negative impacts in their report. By using uncertainties in the results or using their expert judgment, an EIA professional can interpret his or her results with a certain level of subjectivity. While some argue that these biases in impact statements can be resolved during project review, evidence shows that this is often difficult because of uncertainty and a lack of data [4].

Chartered Professional Accountants

In order to reduce the potential for bias in the preparation of EIA documentation and to ensure that professionals have the right qualifications, the EIA profession should be organized and regulated with a professional order like accountants, doctors, lawyers or engineers.

Accountants are similar to EIA professionals. The public and the government trust in accountants to be impartial and unbiased when preparing financial audits, even through they are paid by the audited entity. In Quebec, accountants must be members of the Order of Chartered Professional Accountants of Quebec to work in the profession. The order was established by provincial legislation. CPAs must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics, have professional conduct rules, must complete an annual minimum of professional development courses and their compliance is regularly inspected by the Order [5].

An Order for EIA Professionals

An EIA Order would work similarly: The government and the public trust EIA professionals to give a scientifically sound and unbiased study of a projects impacts, while being paid by the proponent.

In Canada and the United Kingdom, for example, organizations already exist that unify environmental professionals [6]. In the UK, IEMA has a register of EIA Practitioners. Applicants wishing to join must fulfill a strict set of criteria. IEMA also offers other environmental professional designations that are not specific to EIA, such the Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) designation [7]. In Canada, an EIA professional can achieve the Environmental Professional (EP) or Environmental Professional in training (EPt) designation. While EP is open to all environmental professionals, there is a specific sub-qualification for EIA specialists. [8]

In both examples, a professional must adhere to the respective Codes of Practice or Conduct (see Canadian code in Box 1 below; for UK code, click here) and engage in continued professional development to keep their designation. Both organizations facilitate or organize training courses for its members and they require the payment of an annual membership fee. [7; 8].

As we have seen, the general framework for a professional order for EIA practitioners, with similar features to the Order of CPAs, is already in place:

  • Public Trust in Profession
  • Qualification to Join
  • Code of Ethics and Professional Practice
  • Continued Professional Development
  • Enforcement and Penalties

EIA legislation would need to be amended to make membership in the Order mandatory for all involved in preparing environmental impact statements. This would ensure that EIS authors follow strict codes of ethics and best practice and that they are qualified for the task. At the same time, it is important that the codes of ethics and professional deontology are followed; thus strict penalties must be in place and enforce to ensure that members of the order are fulfilling their duties and responsibilities to the client, the government, the public and the environment. Overall a professional order could improve the public’s trust and confidence in EIA practitioners and more importantly, their environmental assessment work.

This blog post, presents an initial idea to inspire thought about the topic and to encourage discussion about the EIA profession and the way it is organized in Canada. If you would like to share your thoughts and ideas on this topic, I invite you to comment below or to e-mail me at n_ahn@live.concordia.ca.

Box 1. EP Code of Ethics

References

[1] Wood, G. (2008). Thresholds and criteria for evaluating and communicating impact significance in environmental statements: ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’? Environmental Impact Assessment Review , 28, 22-38.

[2] Noble, B., & Storey, K. (2005). Towards increasing the utility of follow-up in Canadian EIA. Environmental Impact Assessment Review , 25, 163-180.

[3] Beder, S. (1993, February). Bias and Credibility in Environmental Impact Assessment. Chain Reaction (68), pp. 28-30.

[4] Hollick, M. (1984). Who Should Prepare Environmental Impact Assessments? Environmental Management , 8 (3), 191-196.

[5] CPA Québec. (2014). The Profession and the Order. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from CPA Québec: http://cpa-quebec.com/the-profession-and-the-order

[6] McKenzie, V. (2010). The comparative benefits of the Certified Environmental Practitioner Program in Australia and New Zealand. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management , 17 (3), 176-186.

[7] IEMA. (2014). EIA Practitioners Code of Practice. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from Institute for Environmental Management and Assessment: http://www.iema.net/membership-eia-practitioners-code-of-conduct

[8] ECO Canada. (2014). Become an EP. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from ECO Canada: http://www.eco.ca/certification/become-an-ep/