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The Triumph and Tragedy of 100

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Dec 13, 2018 11:31:52 AM

The number 100 has been in the news a lot lately, associated with bold action and as well as imminent disaster: commitments to 100% renewables across the globe; 100% bans of single-use plastics; and 100% certainty that the climate is changing so quickly that we’re losing our ability to cope with it.  Here’s a deeper dive into the important—and ominous—number.

100 is a powerful number.  Scoring 100 on a test was always an aspiration in my school days.  My grandmother is turning 100 in January—an incredible achievement.  100 represents a century, the boiling temperature of pure water at sea level on the Celsius scale, and the record number of points scored in one NBA game by a single player (Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962).

100 has stolen the headlines lately—mostly in connection with commitments to sourcing clean, renewable energy.  Countries, states, cities, utilities and corporations are committed to sourcing 100% of their power from renewables across the globe in response to our rapidly changing climate and dire need to reduce carbon emissions.

In the U.S., 100 cities have now committed to transition to 100% renewables.  According to the Sierra Club, “This means that 1 in 7 Americans -- 48.7 million people total -- now live in places that are committed to a future powered entirely by renewable energy, like wind and solar.  Together, these 100 cities and towns prove that local action is driving national and global impact.” 

Six of these cities--Aspen, Burlington, Georgetown, Greensburg, Rockport, and Kodiak Island—have already hit the 100% target.  Other cities, ranging from San Francisco to Denver to Cincinnati to Atlanta to Cambridge to Orlando, have set targets to reach 100% renewable by somewhere between 2030-2035.

A few pioneering states are making bold commitments as well.  Hawaii was the early pioneer and California soon followed suit, both implementing state-wide plans to transition 100% renewables by 2045. 

By sourcing 100% of their power from clean energy, these cities, counties, and states are expected reduce carbon pollution by 120 million metric tons—the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road or retiring 30 average coal-fired power plants.

Last week at the COP24 meetings, Xcel Energy became the first utility in the U.S. to set a goal to provide all of its customers 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.   Since Xcel Energy services approximately 5 million customers in eight states (Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin), the commitment is substantial. 

In addition to renewables, there are other positive associations in the news right now with respect to 100.  For example, the Europe Parliament approved the 100% ban of the 10 most common single-use plastics—including cutlery, plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and bags—to address extensive ocean pollution.

In the U.S., the state of California as well as cities like Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle, have also banned plastic bags.

These bans are important, as our profligate use of plastics has resulted in five massive swirling trash gyres in the North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Pacific, South Atlantic and Indian oceans.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now estimated to be 16 times larger than previously thought, weighing in at a preposterous 79,000 tons.

Another positive association with 100 is Project Drawdown, a non-profit created by pioneering sustainability expert Paul Hawken, who brought together hundreds of research fellows, advisors, scientists, reviewers, and subject matter experts from across the globe to model 100 solutions in areas like transportation, land management, renewable energy, agriculture, waste reduction, and recycling. 

The research found that refrigerant management is the single most impactful solution.  “That’s kind of a bummer,” says Hawken with a sly smile, “because it’s not really sexy.”

Hawken avows that almost all of the solutions researched by Project Drawdown are no-brainers for humanity.  “98 of the 100 solutions are no-regrets solutions.  They have so many benefits—even if we had no clue about climate change, we would want to implement these solutions to enhance our future, irrespective of their positive climate impact.”

Unfortunately, 100 is not always associated bold commitments and positive results—it also represents tragedy.  For example, a recent study found that 100% of sea turtles researched in three oceans had plastics, microplastics, and other synthetics in their digestive systems.

"From our work over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, dolphins and now turtles," said Penelope Lindeque of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, co-author of the report.

And, most scientists are 100% convinced that the climate is changing so quickly that humans may no longer be able to cope.  A recent report issued by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) stressed the urgency of climate action with conviction, asserting that the "Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities."

"The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters (approximately 32.8 to 65.6 feet) higher than now," said Pettero Taalas, WMO’s Secretary-General.  "The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed."

While the triumphs of 100 are thrilling, the tragedies associated with the number are simply unacceptable. We can’t sit idly by and let our precious environment deteriorate around us until sea turtles are no more, or until we are forced out of our communities by rising sea levels, wildfires, superstorms, and flooding.  We can do better.  We must do better. 

How do we do better?  Let’s discuss this pivotal question at our upcoming Sustainability Symposium 2019: The Desert Shall Bloom on Monday, February 18, 2019 at the UNLV campus in Las Vegas.  Brimming with vision and ingenuity, the event’s agenda includes luminaries like General Wesley Clark, Academy-Award winning actor Jeff Bridges, and NBA legend Bill Walton.

And, don’t miss a special VIP dinner the night before the Sustainability Symposium on February 17 at 6:00 p.m. at the exclusive Mr. Chow in Caesars Palace.

Click here to register for the Sustainability Symposium 2019: The Desert Shall Bloom and Sustainability Awards galaSpace is strictly limited and by reservation only, so reserve your seat today! 

A sincere thank you to our generous sponsors, Samsung, Ingersoll Rand, Emerson, Andersen, Owens Corning, Uponor, and Caesars Entertainment for helping to make the Symposium and gala dinner possible.

How do you think we can do better?  Write to me at sara.gutterman@greenbuildermedia.com.

Want to read more?  Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.  For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit Green Builder Media at www.greenbuildermedia.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter for regular updates and breaking news.

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