By Paul Brown
It may come as a surprise to realize that a plant struggling for survival in a harsh environment is also doing its bit to save the planet from the threats of the rapidly changing climate. But that's what Mexico's cactuses are managing to do.
Research published in the journal The Science of Nature shows that desert soils supporting a high density of cactus contain large quantities of stored bio-minerals (minerals produced by living organisms), formed by the action of the plants in extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Not only that. Cactuses can also be harvested, processed and turned into a form of leather used to make fashion accessories like purses and wallets.
These two attributes have been turned into a successful business by a Mexican/American company, CACTO. It claims to be the first "carbon negative fashion company in the Americas" − in other words, its activities remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it creates in making and marketing its products.
No Animals Involved
This is a bold claim in an industry struggling with its poor environmental record. According to McKinsey and Co. the worldwide fashion industry emits about the same amount of greenhouse gases as France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. But CACTO gives Mexico's cactuses special treatment.
CACTO's products are vegan and so allow a growing class of consumers to buy leather objects that are made without any animal products.
The research into the ability of cactus to extract carbon from the atmosphere and store it was carried out on one cactus species, the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), which can grow to 40 feet.
It is native to the Sonoran desert in Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, and shares with all other cactus varieties the same abilities for dealing with carbon. This has proved a bonus for CACTO because cactuses are the most numerous plants in Mexico.
CACTO's plantations are organic, fed by rainwater, free of herbicides and pesticides, and renewable, and after the ears, or leaves; of the cactus are harvested, the plant grows a replacement in six to eight months. This regeneration allows repeat harvesting. The leaves are then sun-dried to avoid using any electricity. The company's products (available only in green or black) are on sale in more than 100 countries.
CACTO was founded by Jesus Chavez, a climate campaigner, and was designed to have sustainability as a guiding principle at the core of its operation. The entire production cycle is closely monitored by its staff, from the sourcing of materials to production, packaging, distribution and shipping.
Through a partnership with a Swiss non-profit organisation, On a Mission, CACTO says its staff have measured and offset 150% of its CO2 emissions through sustainable reforestation worldwide.
The measurement and offsetting process will take place every six months for the next 10 years. Through several emergent partnerships, the company says it aims to offset at least 1000% of the emissions it generates by the end of 2021.
Jesus Chavez said: "If we want to succeed in reaching net zero carbon emissions well before 2050 and avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we must all work in concert in whatever capacity we are able to.
"Industries across the board need to benefit from existing technology and offsetting programs to become carbon-negative, and to invest in new research and innovation to reach that goal faster. The decisions we make this decade will determine the fate of humanity for centuries to come. It is up to us now."
He said customers around the world wanted alternatives to materials that increased pollution and to unethical manufacturing processes.
CACTO hopes to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to make clear what has been evident to specialists for decades, that decoupling emissions from economic growth is not only feasible, but is the smartest, fastest and most responsible way to grow. Mexico's cactuses bear a heavy responsibility on their ears − or leaves − or branches.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
By Tim Radford
London, 15 February, 2021. Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a "Break Glass in Case of Emergency" kind of tool.
But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change − driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.
The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.
But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.
Not for Dummies
There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.
People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They'd be wrong.
First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) U.S. Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.
Then Gates writes as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.
Crude oil, he calculates, "is cheaper than a soft drink." By mid-century "climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly."
And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world's building stock will double. "That's like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years."
I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn't deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an "absurdly high" carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he's always trying to learn more.
And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there's no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It's going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.
He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.
He touches on biofuels, nuclear power ("this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company"), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.
That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.
"There are two numbers you need to know about climate change," he writes in his opening sentences. "The first is 51 billion. The second is zero."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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When you think of states that have made a heavy investment in solar energy, Virginia may not be at the top of your list. Yet in recent years, Virginians have made a massive amount of progress; in 2019, the state was ranked No. 19 in the country for solar installation, and in 2020 it jumped to No. 4.
But what are the top cities for solar in Virginia? We've done some digging and come up with a comprehensive list.
Top 10 Cities for Solar in Virginia
When narrowing down the top cities for solar in Virginia, EcoWatch took into consideration solar power generation data from the Energy Information Institute, maps on solar irradiance and potential from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, local government websites and Environment America's latest Shining Cities report.
Based on this information, the top cities for solar in Virginia are as follows:
- Virginia Beach
- Newport News
Virginia's capital city ranks first in the state and 49th in the nation for total solar PV installations. According to the Shining Cities report, there are over 22 watts of solar installed per person in Richmond.
2. Virginia Beach
Although Virginia Beach is better-known for its large offshore wind energy farm, the popular tourist destination ranks second in Virginia and 61st in the nation for total solar PV installations. There are currently over five watts installed per person, per the Shining Cities report.
Alexandria earned a SolSmart Gold designation in July 2020, which is the highest designation given by the program. The city also boasts an impressive portfolio of new and promising renewable energy programs, solar feasibility studies and more.
NREL's Solar for All maps show that Norfolk boasts one of the highest potentials for solar energy generation and roof-mount capacity. Major corporations have already adopted solar in the area — the IKEA store in Norfolk even features a 180,000-square-foot solar array.
In 2012, Roanoke participated in the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Challenge with the goal of curbing energy use by 20% across 1 million square feet of building space by 2022. In 2018, Roanoke achieved that goal with a 23% energy reduction. The city remains committed to clean energy, as evidenced by its impressive Solarize Roanoke project.
Fairfax has also been designated a SolSmart Gold city and has its own Solarize Fairfax County initiative. This project, which gives residents access to free solar assessments, bulk-purchasing discounts, discounted solar batteries and more, has concluded for the 2021 season but may well return in 2022.
In addition to a city-specific solar tax credit and a Solarize Charlottesville program, the city has started putting solar panels on government buildings. Among the solarized buildings are Charlottesville High School, the City Facilities Maintenance Building and the ecoREMOD Energy House.
8. Newport News
This coastal city receives a lot of sunshine… some 215 days a year, in fact. It's no surprise, then, that NREL maps show a high capacity for rooftop solar and an above-average number of buildings suitable for solar.
According to NREL data, Danville has a high potential for rooftop solar capacity and generation, and the city is doing its part to help residents make the switch to clean energy. It has developed its own net metering program for residential solar installations up to 10 kW, as well as invested in two solar farms that are producing about 10 MW of energy to be used by Danville Utilities customers.
In March of 2014, Blacksburg became the first community in Virginia to launch a Solarize campaign, and NREL maps show it has a high potential for solar generation. This SolSmart Silver city offers many solar-focused resources for residents, including a solar panel installation checklist, information for those interested in solar jobs and guidance on solar access within the state.
Where Solar Panels Work Best
While there are many solar-smart cities in Virginia, some are better suited than others for PV installation. The best cities for solar include those that have:
- Decent sun exposure: Cities that get consistent year-round sunlight tend to be good places to invest in solar, hence the coastal communities we've included on our list.
- High local utility costs: Solar power tends to be more valuable in cities that have high electrical costs. More on that in a moment.
- Local rebates and incentives: Some cities make solar investment more attractive by implementing local net metering programs, tax rebates or other financial incentives.
Average Virginia Electricity Costs
As mentioned, residents in places with higher electricity costs stand to benefit more from installing solar panels. In Virginia, the average monthly electrical consumption is 1,122 kWh, which is roughly on par with nearby states such as South Carolina and West Virginia, though a bit higher than in Maryland or Washington, D.C. The average monthly electric bill is $135.46, which is on the high side compared to most neighboring states.
Virginia Solar Tax Incentives
Homeowners in Virginia can take advantage of a few solar tax exemptions and incentives to help offset the cost of solar panels. For example, there is a property tax exemption, which means that although solar panels will increase the value of a home, they will not increase your property taxes. Virginia also has a state-wide net metering program, which means that any surplus energy generated by solar panels can be fed back into the electric grid in exchange for credits from your utility company.
Federal Solar Tax Credits
Homeowners in Virginia (and anywhere else in the country) can also claim a residential federal tax credit worth 26% of their total solar installation cost. This can offset the initial investment expenditure considerably, but keep in mind that this credit may be phased out by 2023 unless Congress acts swiftly to renew it.
Virginia Solar Regulations
There are a few laws that impact solar adoption in Virginia. Some notable examples include:
- The Solar Rights law protects the rights of homeowners to install solar panels, without being obstructed by their homeowners association or other community association. HOAs do have some leeway to regulate the aesthetics of solar installations, however.
- Virginia's Zero Carbon Bill will create more than 30,000 solar jobs by the year 2030.
- The Virginia Clean Economy Act is set to create a number of new incentives for homeowners to go solar. It also creates robust clean energy standards for utility companies and fines providers unable to meet those standards.
Final Thoughts: Top Cities for Solar in Virginia
Solar energy presents a valuable opportunity for homeowners to lower electric bills, reduce their impact on the environment and become less dependent on traditional utilities. However, in Virginia, some cities are more solar-forward than others. If you didn't see your city on this list (and even if you did), there are plenty of ways individuals can push for more solar power in their areas. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Install solar panels on your home
- Educate your neighbors about the benefits of solar energy
- Reach out to your elected officials and urge them to set strict renewable energy goals
By Alex Kirby
The temperature of the Arctic matters to the entire world: it helps to keep the global climate fairly cool. Scientists now say that by 2035 there could be an end to Arctic sea ice.
The northern polar ocean's sea ice is a crucial element in the Earth system: because it is highly reflective, it sends solar radiation back out into space. Once it's melted, there's no longer any protection for the darker water and rock beneath, and nothing to prevent them absorbing the incoming heat.
High temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial – the warm period around 127,000 years ago – have puzzled scientists for decades.
Now the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre climate model has enabled an international research team to compare Arctic sea ice conditions during the last interglacial with the present day. Their findings are important for improving predictions of future sea ice change.
What is striking about the latest research is the date it suggests for a possible total melt − 2035. Many studies have thought a mid-century crisis likely, with another even carefully specifying 2044 as the year to watch. So a breathing space of only 15 years may surprise some experts.
During spring and early summer shallow pools of water form on the surface of the Arctic sea ice. These "melt ponds" help to determine how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space. The new Hadley Centre model is the UK's most advanced physical representation of the Earth's climate and a critical tool for climate research, and it incorporates sea ice and melt ponds.
The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. Using the model to look at Arctic sea ice during the last interglacial, they concluded that the impact of intense springtime sunshine created many melt ponds, which played a crucial role in sea ice melt. A simulation of the future using the same model indicates that the Arctic may become sea ice-free by 2035.
The joint lead author of the team is Dr Maria Vittoria Guarino, an earth system modeller at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge. She says: "High temperatures in the Arctic have puzzled scientists for decades. Unravelling this mystery was technically and scientifically challenging. For the first time, we can begin to see how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial.
"The advances made in climate modeling mean that we can create a more accurate simulation of the Earth's past climate which, in turn, gives us greater confidence in model predictions for the future."
Dr. Louise Sime, the group head of the palaeoclimate group and joint lead author at BAS, says, "We know the Arctic is undergoing significant changes as our planet warms. By understanding what happened during Earth's last warm period we are in a better position to understand what will happen in the future.
Melt Ponds Crucial
"The prospect of loss of sea ice by 2035 should really be focusing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible."
Dr. David Schroeder from the University of Reading, UK, who co-led the implementation of the melt pond scheme in the climate model, says, "This shows just how important sea ice processes like melt ponds are in the Arctic, and why it is crucial that they are incorporated into climate models."
The extent of the areas sea ice covers varies between summer and winter. If more solar energy is absorbed at the surface, and temperatures rise further, a cycle of warming and melting occurs during summer months.
When the ice forms, the ocean water beneath becomes saltier and denser than the surrounding ocean. Saltier water sinks and moves along the ocean bottom towards the equator, while warm water from mid-depths to the surface travels from the equator towards the poles.
Scientists refer to this process as the ocean's global "conveyor-belt." Changes to the volume of sea ice can disrupt normal ocean circulation, with consequences for global climate.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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By Tim Radford
German scientists now know why so many fish are so vulnerable to ever-warming oceans. Global heating imposes a harsh cost at the most critical time of all: the moment of spawning.
"Our findings show that, both as embryos in eggs and as adults ready to mate, fish are far more sensitive to heat than in their larval stage or as sexually mature adults outside the mating season," said Flemming Dahlke, a marine biologist with the Alfred Wegener Institute at Bremerhaven.
"On the global average, for example, adults outside the mating season can survive in water that's up to 10°C warmer than adults ready to mate, or fish eggs, can."
The finding – if it is confirmed by other research – should clear up some of the puzzles associated with fish numbers. There is clear evidence, established repeatedly over the decades, that fish are responding to climate change.
But almost three fourths of the planet is blue ocean, and at depth is responding far more slowly than the land surface to global heating fueled by fossil fuel exploitation that releases greenhouse gases.
Nearing the Brink
Since fish in the temperate zones already experience a wide variation in seasonal water temperatures, it hasn't been obvious why species such as cod have shifted nearer the Arctic, and sardines have migrated to the North Sea.
But marine creatures are on the move, and although there are other factors at work, including overfishing and the increasingly alarming changes in ocean chemistry, thanks to ever-higher levels of dissolved carbon dioxide, temperature change is part of the problem.
The latest answer, Dr Dahlke and his colleagues report in the journal Science, is that many fish may already be living near the limits of their thermal tolerance.
The temperature safety margins during the moments of spawning and embryo might be very precise, and over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, marine and freshwater species have worked out just what is best for the next generation. Rapid global warming upsets this equilibrium.
The Bremerhaven scientists looked at experiments, observations and recorded data for the life cycles of 694 marine and freshwater species, to decide that oxygen supply is the key decider of reproductive success. Warmer waters carry less dissolved oxygen. Embryo fish have no gills: they cannot simply take in deeper breaths.
Fish about to mate are busy producing extra mass in the form of sperm and egg cells: this additional body mass also needs oxygen. Even at lower temperatures, piscine cardiovascular systems are under stress.
So the reasoning follows that, if global heating continues, climate change and rising water temperatures are likely to affect the reproduction of perhaps 60% of all fish species.
"Some species might successfully manage this change," Dr Dahlke said. "But if you consider the fact that fish have adapted their mating patterns to specific habitats over extremely long timeframes, and have tailored their mating cycles of specific ocean currents and food sources, it has to be assumed that being forced to abandon their normal spawning areas will mean major problems for them."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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By Tim Radford
Scientists have taken the temperature of the deep seas and found alarming signs of change: ocean warming is prompting many creatures to migrate fast.
The species that live in the deep and the dark are moving towards the poles at twice to almost four times the speed of surface creatures.
The implication is that – even though conditions in the abyssal plain are far more stable than surface currents – the creatures of the abyss are feeling the heat.
The oceans of the world cover almost three-fourths of the globe and, from surface to seafloor, provide at least 90% of the planet's living space.
And although there has been repeated attention to the health of the waters that define the Blue Planet, it remains immensely difficult to arrive at a consistent, global figure for rates of change in temperature of the planet's largest habitat.
Oceanographers are fond of complaining that humankind knows more about the surface of Mars and Venus than it does about the bedrock and marine sediments at depth.
This may still be true, but repeated studies have confirmed that the ocean floor ecosystem is surprisingly rich, varied and potentially at risk.
Now researchers from Australia, Europe, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines report in the journal Nature Climate Change that although they could not deliver thermometer readings, they had found an indirect measure: the rate at which marine creatures move on because they don't care for their local temperature shifts.
They call this "climate velocity." They had data for 20,000 marine species. And they found that overall, at depths greater than 1000 meters, marine creatures have been on the move much faster than their fellow citizens near the surface, over the second half of the 20th century.
Computer simulations tell an even more alarming story: by the end of this century, creatures in the mesopelagic layer – from 200 meters down to 1000 meters – will be moving away between four and 11 times faster than those at the surface do now.
The finding is indirectly supported by a second and unrelated study on the same day in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. French scientists looked at studies of more than 12,000 kinds of the migrations of bacteria, plant, fungus and animal to find that sea creatures are already floating, swimming or crawling towards the poles six times faster than those on land, as a response to global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels.
So shifts in range can be interpreted as an indicator of the stress on the ocean habitats. This creates complications for conservationists arguing for internationally protected zones – protected from fishing trawl nets, and from submarine mining operations – because, if for no other reason, not only are ocean creatures moving at different speeds at different depths; some of the shifts are in different directions.
"Significantly reducing carbon emissions is vital to control warming and help take control of climate velocities in the surface layers of the ocean by 2100," said Anthony Richardson of the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the authors.
"But because of the immense size and depth of the ocean, warming already observed at the ocean surface will mix into deeper waters. This means that marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now.
"This leaves only one option – act urgently to alleviate other human-generated threats to deep sea life, including seabed mining and deep-sea bottom-fishing."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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By Tim Radford
Forget about organic farming: get the best out of the best cropland, return the rest to nature and still feed the world. It could work, say researchers.
Once again, scientists have demonstrated that humans could restore roughly half the planet as a natural home for all the other wild things, while at the same time feeding a growing population and limiting climate change.
That doesn't mean it will happen, or could be made to happen easily. But it does yet again address one of the enduring challenges of population growth and the potentially devastating loss of the biodiversity upon which all individual species – humans more than most – depend to survive.
The answer? Simply to farm more efficiently and more intensively, to maximize the yield from those tracts of land most suitable for crops, and let nature reclaim the no-longer so productive hectares.
Even more effective would be to release as much land as possible in those regions that ecologists and biologists like to call "biodiversity hotspots," among them the forests where concentrations of species are at their peak.
European researchers argue, in a study in the journal Nature Sustainability, that as less land was cultivated, but more intensively, the greenhouse gas emissions from farming would be reduced: so too would water use.
"The main questions we wanted to address were how much cropland could be spared if attainable crop yields were achieved globally and crops were grown where they are most productive," said Christian Folberth, a scientist with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, who led the study.
"In addition, we wanted to determine what the implications would be for other factors related to the agricultural sector, including fertilizer and irrigation water requirements, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration potential, and wildlife habitat for threatened species."
The problem is enormous, and enormously complex. Cropland farming alone – forget about methane from cattle and sheep – accounts for 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. Worldwide, about 70% of all the freshwater taken from rivers and aquifers goes into irrigation.
Global heating driven by fossil fuel investment continues to increase, and this in turn threatens to diminish harvest yields across a wide range of crops, along with the nutritive value of the staples themselves.
Nature under threat
At the same time, both climate change driven by global warming and the expansion of the cities and the surrounding farmlands continue to amplify the threat to natural habitats and the millions of species – many yet to be identified and named by science – that depend upon them.
And this in turn poses a threat to human economies and even human life: almost every resource – antibiotic medicines and drugs, food, waste disposal, fabrics, building materials and even fresh air and water – evolved in undisturbed ecosystems long before Homo sapiens arrived, and the services each element provides depend ultimately on the survival of those ecosystems.
So the challenge is to restore and return to nature around half the land humans already use, while at the same time feeding what could be an additional 2bn people, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions but still sustaining development in the poorest nations.
The scientists looked at the data for 16 major crop species around the world to calculate that at least in theory – with careful use of the right crops on the most suitable soils, and with high fertilizer use – about half of the present cropland now cultivated could still deliver the present output.
That is, the land humans occupy is not being managed efficiently. If it were, the other half could be returned to wilderness, and conserved as natural forest, grassland or wetland.
If humans then thought about how best to slow biodiversity loss, they would do almost as well by abandoning farmland in those places where there was the greatest concentration of wild things – tropical rain forests, estuary floodplains and mangrove swamps, for instance. And just returning 20% of farmland to nature everywhere else would still reduce human farmland use by 40%.
In return, fertilizer use would remain about the same, but greenhouse gas emissions and water use would fall, while more land would become free to sequester atmospheric carbon.
There would be costs – nitrogen pollution would go up in some places, and many rural farmers would become even poorer – so more thinking needs to be done. The point the European researchers want to make is that, in principle, it should be possible to feed people, abandon farmland to the natural world and reduce emissions all at the same time.
"It shows that cropland expansion is not inevitable and there is significant potential for improving present land use efficiency," said Michael Obersteiner, another author, now at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford.
"If the right policies are implemented, measures such as improved production technologies can be just as effective as demand-side measures like dietary changes. However, in all cases, such a process would need to be steered by policies to avoid unwanted outcomes."
This story originally appeared in Climate News Network and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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Cutting out coal-burning and other sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy industry, electricity production and traffic will reduce the size of the world's dead zones along coasts where all fish life is vanishing because of a lack of oxygen.
Researchers in Hong Kong report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that cutting fossil fuel use in China would benefit not only the climate but also the fisheries along all the country's coasts.
The finding is significant because many countries concerned about the loss of their coastal and lake fisheries caused by dead zones have been concentrating only on reducing agricultural fertilizer run-off from fields and sewage discharges, which are known to load the rivers with nutrients.
When the nutrients reach lakes or the open sea they feed algae, which rapidly grow into huge green masses. When these so-called algal blooms die they sink to the bottom and decompose, using up nearly all the oxygen in the water.
This process, known as eutrophication, leads to hypoxia, a level of oxygen that is too low for most organisms to survive. Fish usually swim away to healthier waters, but life forms which cannot easily move simply die.
NOx emissions from fossil fuel burning and fertiliser manufacture lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, smog and acid rain, and contribute to global warming through the greenhouse effect.
What the new research shows is that while fertiliser and sewage are very important in creating dead zones, the aerial input of NOx makes a bad situation far worse.
The report's lead author, Yu Yan Yau, an MPhil student at the University of Hong Kong's Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), and her colleagues studied the South China, East China, Yellow and Bohai Seas.
They found that the atmospheric deposition of nutrients from fossil fuel burning on the mainland increased the amount of organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the sea by 15%, and increased the dead zones by 5%. The South China Sea was the most sensitive to fossil fuel burning.
The good news in their research was that cutting this burning would considerably reduce the size of the dead zones.
Yu Yan Yau said: "I hope our study brings more attention to the potential benefit of reducing fossil fuel burning on human and ecosystem health, but also on local economic activities like fisheries, which are severely affected by hypoxia."
Her supervisor, Dr Benoit Thibodeau, added: "Low levels of oxygen are observed in many coastal seas around the world and it is important to find better ways to tackle this problem.
"While we understand that sewage and nutrient input from the Pearl River drive most of the hypoxia in the Greater Bay Area, we observe low levels of oxygen in regions that are not directly under the influence of these sources. Thus it is important to investigate the impact of atmospheric deposition more locally."
These findings will be important to many countries that are trying to rescue their coastal fisheries from dead zones. There are about 400 of these globally, including parts of Europe's Baltic Sea.
The largest is in the Arabian Sea, covering about 63,000 square miles, and the second largest a vast area in the Gulf of Mexico next to the Mississippi Delta, where a dead zone devoid of marine life develops every summer.
Every year winter rains wash fertilizer from fields in the US corn belt into the river. Combined with sewage overflows, this creates a huge quantity of nutrients that sweep down the river into the sea.
Depending on the size of the winter floods, scientists try to predict the extent of the resultant dead zone. However, the banks of the lower river are also crowded with heavy industrial sites, many burning large quantities of fossil fuels and creating large amounts of NOx, something that previously has not been taken into account.
If the Hong Kong research is correct, then cutting the pollution from these industries will also reduce the size of the Mississippi's dead zone.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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By Paul Brown
The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased tenfold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans' vast store of blue energy.
Although in 2019 the total amount of energy produced by "blue power" would have been enough to provide electricity to only one city the size of Paris, even that was a vast increase on the tiny experiments being carried out 10 years earlier.
Now countries across the world with access to the sea are beginning to exploit all sorts of new technologies and are intending to scale them up to bolster their attempts to go carbon-neutral.
Blue energy takes many forms. One of the most difficult technically is harnessing the energy of waves with devices that produce electricity. After several false starts many successful prototypes are now being trialed for commercial use. Other experiments exploit the tidal range – using the power of rapidly rising and falling tidal streams to push water through turbines.
The most commercially successful strategies so far use underwater turbines, similar to wind turbines, to exploit the tidal currents in coastal regions.
More ambitious but along the same lines are attempts to capture the energy from the immense ocean currents that move vast quantities of water around the planet.
Also included in blue energy is ocean thermal energy conversion, which exploits the temperature differences between solar energy stored as heat in the upper ocean layers and colder seawater, generally at a depth below 1000 meters.
A variation on this is to use salinity gradients, the difference between the salt content of the sea and fresh water entering from a large river system. Some of these schemes are being used to produce fresh drinking water for dry regions rather than electricity.
The potential from all these energy sources is so great that an organization called Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, is pooling all the research in a bid to achieve large-scale deployment.
There are now 24 countries in the OES, including China, India, the U.S., most European nations with a coastline, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Most of them have already deployed some blue energy schemes and are hoping to scale them up to full commercial use in the next decade.
As with wind and solar when they were being widely developed ten years ago, energy from the oceans is currently more expensive than fossil fuels. But as the technologies are refined the costs are coming down.
Already China has encouraged tidal stream energy by offering a feed-in tariff three times the price of fossil fuels, similar to the rate used in many countries to launch solar and wind power. One Chinese company is already finding this incentive enough to feed power into the grid and make a profit.
Among the leading countries developing these technologies are Canada and the United Kingdom, the two countries with the highest tides in the world. Canada has a number of tidal energy schemes on its Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia, with several competing companies testing different prototypes.
Scotland, which has enormous potential because of its many islands and tidal currents, has the largest tidal array of underwater turbines in the world. The turbine output has exceeded expectations, and the MeyGen company is planning to vastly increase the number of installations.
But this is only one of more than 20 projects in the UK, some still in the research and development stage, but many already being scaled up for deployment at special testing grounds in Scotland's Orkney islands and the West of England.
OES chairman Henry Jeffrey, from the University of Edinburgh, said the group's new annual report communicates the sizable global effort to identify commercialization pathways for ocean energy technologies.
Both Canada and the U.S. can now see big potential, and political leaders across Europe have identified ocean energy as an essential component in meeting decarbonization targets, fostering economic growth and creating future employment opportunities.
Lower Costs Essential
"Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector as leading global powers attempt to rebalance energy usage and limit global warming. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy," he said.
However, Jeffrey warned that while the sector continued to take huge strides forward, there were several challenges ahead "centred around affordability, reliability, installability, operability, funding availability, capacity building and standardization.
"In particular, significant cost reductions are required for ocean energy technologies to compete with other low-carbon technologies."
Currently the cost of wind power, taking into account construction costs over the turbines' lifetime, is being quoted as around €0.8-10 (one eighth to one tenth of a Euro, about £0.07-9 or US$0.9-11) per kilowatt hour, but this is still going down.
The European target is to get tidal stream energy down to €0.10 by 2030 and wave power down to €0.15, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if gas and coal were obliged to pay for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide they produce.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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By Nivedita Khandekar
After decades of concentrating on economic development and insisting that global warming was mainly a problem for the more industrially-developed countries to solve, Indian industry is at last facing up to dangers posed to its own future by climate change.
More than 40 organizations — including major industrial corporations such as Tata, Godrej, Mahindra and Wipro through their various philanthropic organizations, plus academic thinktanks, business schools, aid agencies, and the government's scientific advisers — have come together to co-operate on climate solutions.
Although there have been many individual initiatives in India on climate change, and there has been government support for renewables, particularly solar power, efforts so far have been fragmented.
State and national governments, individual departments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and academics have all worked separately, and sometimes in opposition to each other.
The scale of the task facing India is underlined by the fact it has taken two years to get the ICC up and running. However, with India ranked fifth in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 and facing one climate disaster after another — sometimes simultaneous extreme weather events — these organizations have agreed that the issue can no longer be ignored.
At the opening ceremony for the organization, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, said: "It is clear that the world cannot continue to pursue a business-as-usual approach, and nobody can solve the problem on their own. Business, government and philanthropy must collaborate within and among themselves themselves to drive results quickly and at scale. The India Climate Collaborative can make this happen."
The ICC has identified three critical risk factors for India:
- The first is that an astonishing 700 million people are still dependent on agriculture and they are the most vulnerable to an erratic climate.
- The second is that around the country's approximately 7,500 km coastline are several major cities. Many of these important economic hubs, which include all the country's main ports, are a metre or less above current sea level.
- Third, even with the increasingly rigorous focus on renewable energy, there is continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels for producing electricity, which is still in short supply.
According to the India Philanthropy Report 2019, private funds in India, mostly raised through non-government philanthropy, provided about Rs 70,000 crore ($9.5 billion) in 2018 for the social sector, mostly focusing on key aspects such as health, education and agriculture.
However, only a small proportion was spent on climate change, and so the ICC aims to raise the current spending of about 7 percent to at least 20 percent.
Another hindrance to India's many plans for adaptation or mitigation is the lack of capacity among government departments. Something as basic as preparing workable proposals for funding action is a tough task for many state governments.
The ICC plans to conduct technical training as "there are gaps to be filled to take care of the talent shortfall, and there is overall lack of capacity."
One of the first training exercises is planned for state-level bureaucrats from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and in the western state of Rajasthan.
There is some concern that while the India government is represented on the ICC by Prof K. VijayRaghavan, its Principle Scientific Adviser, there is no representation from the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC), which represents the country at the climate talks.
Critics claim that this is particularly worrying because the various government departments are already seen as not working together, or often working at cross-purposes.
There are also fears that there is lack of community involvement, particularly the farmers, who are the largest single group most affected by adverse weather conditions caused by climate change.
However, Shloka Nath, executive director of the ICC and head of Sustainability and Special Projects at the Tata Trust, says the ICC plans to work with the MoEFCC to reach representatives of civil society and bring them into the process.
"It is through them [the ministry] that we plan to reach out to the community," she says. "The people will be very much involved."
Despite these shortcomings, Chandra Bhushan, President and CEO of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST), welcomes the idea. He says: "It is for the first time that Indian companies are understanding climate change and willing to invest in it."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
By Alex Kirby
If you really want to tackle the climate emergency, there's one simple but often forgotten essential: throw your weight behind schools for girls, and ensure adult women can rely on the chance of an education.
Obviously, in a world of differences, some people can do more to tackle the climate crisis than others. So it's essential to recognize how much neglected potential exists among nearly half the human race.
But there's a snag, and it's a massive one: the women and girls who can do so much to avert global heating reaching disastrous levels need to be able to exercise their right to education.
Bold claims? Project Drawdown is a group of researchers who believe that stopping global heating is possible, with solutions that exist today. To do this, they say, we must work together to achieve drawdown, the point when greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere start to decline.
The project's conclusions are startling − and positive. One is that educating girls works better to protect the climate than many technological solutions, vital though they are, and including several variants of renewable energy.
Yet, the group finds, girls and women suffer disproportionately from climate breakdown, and failures in access to education worsen this problem. After the horrendous 2004 tsunami, for example, an Oxfam report found that male survivors outnumbered women by almost 3:1 in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Men were more likely to be able to swim, and women lost precious evacuation time trying to look after children and other relatives.
But given more power and say in how we adapt to and try to prevent global heating, the female half of humankind could make disproportionally positive contributions, the project says.
Using UN data, it suggests that educating girls could result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 51.48 gigatonnes by 2050. The UN Environment Programme says that total greenhouse gas emissions had reached a record high of 55.3 gigatonnes in 2018.
The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organization which argues that humankind must undertake "widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C".
It says that although access to education is a basic human right, across the world girls continue to face multiple barriers based on their gender and its links to other factors such as age, ethnicity, poverty and disability.
But the RTA adds: "Research shows that for each intake of students, educating girls has multiple benefits that go far beyond the individual and any particular society. It can also result in rapid and transformative change that affects the planet itself."
One example it cites is from Mali, in West Africa, where women with secondary education or higher have an average of three children, while those with no education have an average of seven children.
It says that while the UN currently thinks the world's population will grow from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion by 2050, with most of the growth happening in developing countries, recent research shows that if girls' education continues to expand, that number would total 2 billion fewer people by 2045.
It argues that it is not just politicians and the media who fail to focus on this grossly slewed access to education. The RTA says the environmental movement itself rarely makes connections between the education of girls and success in tackling climate change.
One example of conservation work being tied successfully to educating and empowering women it cites is the Andavadoaka clinic in Madagascar, which is funded by a British charity, Blue Ventures Conservation (BVC).
The link between population growth, the lack of family planning facilities and the increasing pressure on fragile natural resources prompted BVC to establish the clinic, which has been running for over a decade and is part of a wider programme serving 45,000 people. As well as the original clinic other projects have grown up that concentrate on specific economic and participation opportunities for women and girls.
Making a Difference
In the least developed countries women make up almost half of the agricultural labour force, giving them a huge role in feeding the future population. But there is a massive gap between men and women in their control over land, their ability to obtain inputs and the pay they can expect.
Individual girls and women continue to make a massive difference, whether it's Greta Thunberg spurring action on climate change or Malala Yousafzai, shot for trying to attend school in Afghanistan, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign for girls' education.
Women who have climbed high up the political ladder have sometimes used their success to ensure that girls are taken seriously. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of an African country − Liberia − used her power to expand the quality of provision in pre-school and primary education by joining the Global Partnership for Education, and the former U.S. first lady Michele Obama spearheaded the Let Girls Learn organization.
The Rapid Transition Alliance's conclusion is short and simple: "Educating girls brings broad benefits to wider society as well as improving efforts to tackle the climate emergency."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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By Tim Radford
The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.
The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.
That is because an estimated 13 million U.S. citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 meters (approximately 5.9 feet), according to new research.
And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate, worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.
Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as U.S. citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.
In the year 2000, a third of all the planet's urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the U.S., more than 120 million citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.
And by 2100, at least 13.1 million people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 meters. Except that they won't: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.
Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.
"Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States," said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.
She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.
"We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not," she said.
The California team's worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.
But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to "well below" 2°C by the century's end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the president of the U.S. has pronounced climate change a "hoax" and announced a withdrawal from the Paris agreement.
Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.
The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.
By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist's favorite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.
Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China, India and Canada hardest of all. If the world's richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.
"The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly," said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.
"Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.
"We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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By Kieran Cooke
Driving an electric-powered vehicle (EV) rather than one reliant on fossil fuels is a key way to tackle climate change and improve air quality — but it does leave the old batteries behind as a nasty residue.
New technologies give rise to their own sets of problems. The all-important battery in an EV has a limited life span — due to high operating temperatures, changing discharge rates and other factors, batteries in EVs in use today are unlikely to last for more than 10 years.
The question is what to do with all those batteries once they have reached the end of their operating life. The dumping of electronic or e-waste — made up of old computers and other everyday equipment — is already a massive worldwide problem: EV industry analysts say similar difficulties could develop when EVs and their batteries reach the end of their lives.
But a recent study by scientists at the University of Birmingham, UK, and colleagues, published in the journal Nature, comes up with some solutions. It says valuable materials, including cobalt, could be extracted or "harvested" from the EV lithium-ion batteries when they no longer work: these materials could then be used to make new batteries.
Such processes can be hazardous: the study's authors say recycling systems with operating robots could be set up to carry out the work.
"In the future, electric vehicles may prove to be a valuable secondary resource for critical materials, and it has been argued that high cobalt-content batteries should be recycled immediately to bolster cobalt supplies", the study says.
"If tens of millions of electric vehicles are to be produced annually, careful husbandry of the resources consumed by electric-vehicle battery manufacturing will surely be essential to ensure the sustainability of the automotive industry of the future."
The study says an EV battery — much like a battery in a mobile phone — loses some of its effectiveness during its life cycle, but can still hold up to 80 percent of its power. While it's not suitable for continued road use, it can be adapted for other purposes.
Powering Local Shops
Banks of old EV batteries could store power: they could be used to store energy to feed into the electricity grid or directly into buildings. In Japan the Toyota car company has pioneered a scheme which hooks up old EV batteries with solar panels to power convenience stores.
In 2017 more than a million EVs were sold worldwide. The study estimates that when those cars reach the end of the road they will produce 250,000 tonnes of discarded battery packs. It's vital, say the study's authors, that this problem be addressed now.
It's estimated that EV global sales combined with sales of plug-in hybrid cars amounted to more than 2.2 million last year. At the same time, sales of fossil fuel cars have been falling.
All the big vehicle manufacturers are making heavy commitments to EV manufacturing. Deloitte, the market research group, forecasts global EV sales rising to 12 million in 2025 and to more than 20 million by 2030. It predicts that as economies of scale are achieved and costs of manufacturing batteries decline, the price of EVs will fall.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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