Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
This week we examine the changing international responses to climate change, with the announcement last week that the US President Barack Obama is to use his Executive Orders to bypass the Republican controlled House and enact a series of measures to address climate change.
Within the US the reaction was swift and predictable, where it was denounced by the Republicans, US Industry and other climate denialist organisations, but praised by fellow Democrats and environmental groups. Whilst Al Gore praised it as the “best speech on climate by any president”, it should have gone further according to the UN climate change chief Christina Figueres. Can’t please everyone I suppose, but it is good to finally see the US take a stance on this.
We take this opportunity to examine how Canada, once known for its Maple Leaves, Ice Hockey and leaping Salmon and now more aptly being referred to as a rogue Petrostate. Over the past decade Canada has transformed itself in an economy and country dominated by the Alberta tar sands, where any concerns about the environment are actively dismissed. No wonder the Harper led Conservative party came out in last year’s US Presidential elections and publicly endorsed the Mitt Romney candidacy. Not the smartest way to get a pipeline known as Keystone XL crossing into the US approved and built.
So how might NZ be faring? Not so well according to Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation, founded to create a generation-wide movement of young Kiwis to secure a safe and thriving zero carbon Aotearoa. NZ has also been called out by the UN as failing to even lodge a formal emissions target for 2020. You have to think that NZ deserves a more aspirational government than this.
As most greenhouse gas emissions are produced in the generation of electricity, we examine the global picture of where these might be originating. Some of the interesting statistics include Norway having the largest consumption of electricity per capita but negligible emissions as generation comes from renewable sources. It is with no surprise that the largest sources of emissions per capita come from the US, Saudi Arabia and our neighbour Australia.
Up next is a well written and thought provoking article on how we might be able to feed the predicted 9 billion people by 2050 and how we will need to completely re-think our systems and become much more sustainable in our approach.
Which is probably timely as the world seems to be accepting the practical realities associated with a warming world and the seemingly impossible political barriers in implementing real change. So instead of curbing CO2e emissions, the focus is now more on adapting to deal with the predicted extreme weather events. For example New York City which was on the receiving end of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 has announced $20 billion investments in infrastructure improvements to deal with storm surges. Other cities and countries also investing heavily in additional infrastructure include Rotterdam, Venice, Bonn, London, Miami, Bangkok, Eketahuna, Maldives, Bangladesh, Cuba and Kenya.
In our next two stories we look at oil and gas based articles and in particular ‘Hydraulic Fracturing’ or Fracking as it is more commonly known.
Fracking has been talked up by industry & some governments as some type of miracle for domestic oil and gas production (it has actually been happening in Taranaki for a number of years). In the US it’s really been embraced, but for all the optimism, it may only lead to a short term effect in boosting domestic production, as many wells decline in recoverable gas and oil at extremely fast rates (on average 80 to 95% lower in only three-years), leading to oil and gas production in the US being flat since October 2012.
Then there are the environmental concerns, for example France has ruled out the use of fracking citing earthquakes, aquifer pollution, heavy metal contamination, increased truck traffic and damage to the countryside as a direct consequence of fracking. Whilst France has elected to ban fracking, industry insiders and lobbyists continue to try to sell the idea of it being used to save the French petrochemical industry and reversing its industrial decline.
The EU climate commissioner also said in an interview that “shale gas was not a miracle solution for Europe and that Europe should avoid the same errors as the US through rules limiting water pollution. Short term gain should not be taken at the expense of long term environmental impact and ultimately the health and wellbeing of a countries population”. We totally agree.
Europe is not only a leader in laws on fracking but in new electricity saving technology. Finnish elevator manufacturer KONE has developed a new hoisting technology that empowers an elevator to reach a lift of a kilometre, up from the previous maximum of 500 metres. Using a new carbon fibre core and a high friction coating instead of the normal steel rope, deemed the UltraRope, it saves on electricity due to the UltraRope being considerably lighter, requires less maintenance and the elevator has less downtime due to building sway. By changing just one component, the generic elevator has now become a part of helping to create a more sustainable building.
Sustainable buildings only seem to be limited by imagination and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Design School they have shown that it is truly alive and well. Dubbed as ‘urban lungs’, the buildings have been designed to be placed near a tunnel in Manhattan that has heavy idling traffic with air full of pollutants. The buildings are modulated to create cleaner air by using the building’s design as a filter; one building the “pixel cloud” is rightly named from the polluted air that is filtered through and the clean steam that is expelled causing a “cloud” appearance. All of us at ETSL found these designs to be extraordinarily creative, elegant and functional.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again.