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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2

Climate Change, Sustainability

Global warming continues, with sea ice in the Arctic at its lowest levels since satellite records were first made in 1978. The weather is becoming more variable in more areas of the world. Poor residents in developing countries are most vulnerable to floods, drought and temperature swings.

The earth's climate has changed, including seven cycles of glacial advances and retreats in the past 650,000 years. The last ice age ended about 7,000 years ago and set in motion the modern climate era and human history. Global cooling and warming in the past was associated primarily with changes in the amount of solar energy received due to small variations in the earth's orbit.

Reliable temperature records began to be kept in the 1880s. They show rising temperatures linked to emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. The year 2015 was the first that global average temperatures were at least 1 degree Celsius above the 1880-1899 average; 15 of the 16 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Melting ice in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica has contributed to an almost seven inch rise in global sea levels over the past century, with much of the increase coming since 2000.

If emissions are not slowed via switches from how energy is produced, some hope that geoengineering could eliminate carbon dioxide and other gases from the atmosphere. Solar radiation management, such as shooting aerosols into the stratosphere or whitening clouds to reflect sunlight back into space, could reduce the energy reaching the earth and lower temperatures.

China aims to dominate industries of the future such as renewable energy, big data, and self-driving cars. Solar energy provides an example. China has two-thirds of the world's solar-production capacity, reflecting a government decision to provide low-cost loans and subsidized loans that expanded solar capacity 10 fold between 2007 and 2012, and made six of the world's top ten solar-panel makers Chinese by 2016.

As the price of solar panels fell over 90 percent in a decade, Chinese firms expanded, US and European solar-panel manufacturers shrank, and anti-dumping duties bought only a little time for non-Chinese firms.

China is the world's largest maker and buyer of steel, cars and smart phones, and its capital, technology, and scale could position China to replace the US as the locomotive of the world's economy. The Made in China 2025 aims to have China produce rather than import a range of high-tech products, including aircraft, high-speed trains, computer chips and robots, as Chinese firms with access to low-cost capital buy needed foreign technologies.

Sustainability. There is a growing interest in agricultural sustainability, defined as farming practices that are sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society, and economically feasible to implement and maintain. Most sustainability programs have a code of best practices that growers can implement, receive certification of their sustainability, and label their commodities as produced sustainably.

Many programs use software to collect data on farming inputs, such as chemicals and water, and outputs, including production volume and quality. These data allows farm managers to tailor inputs to particular soil and other conditions to maximize yields while minimizing chemical and fertilizer usage any adverse effects on the environment.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Practices (SWP) program (www.sustainablewinegrowing.org) aims to enhance the profile of wine. The SWP, based on the three E's of Environmentally Sound, Socially Equitable, and Economically Feasible, includes an HR plan to comply with labor and related laws, such as having written contracts with FLCs who bring workers to the vineyard. The SWP advises employers to applicants and orient new hires to their duties with a handbook. Employers are advised to provide safety training and continuing education and training to supervisors to ensure continued labor law compliance.