Bennett - Editor
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.
Well, it is probably no surprise we open this week with the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) long anticipated and leaked Fifth Assessment Report. Its findings can be summarised as 1) Yes, the world is warming, not as much as the models previously predicted, but that is because it is taking place more in the oceans than in the atmosphere; and 2) They are 95% certain it is anthropogenic responsible. In scientific terms, that is about the same level of certainty that the sun will rise in the morning.
So who is the IPCC? Well it is a scientific group set up in 1988 by two divisions of the United Nations and comprises more than 800 climate scientists from 85 countries. The reports themselves are always very exhaustive. Working Group I received 21,400 comments from 659 experts on its first draft, and then 31,422 more comments from 800 scientists and 26 governments on its second draft.
So what has been the reaction to the release of the report? Politicians took it seriously, with all agreeing they needed to take action urgently. Scientists as usual stayed within the safety of science (sometimes I wish they might get excited). Not for Profits called for action. And these days with a lot of the media like the UK Daily Mail and Washington Examiner owned by climate deniers, they only attempted to undermine the Report. For example, the UK Daily Telegraph opinion piece went like this “The IPCC stands or falls on its computer models. There is no other evidence out there that global warming is any kind of problem. That it exists only in the imagination of the people who programme those computer models and the scientists who contribute to the theory that anthropogenic CO2 is a problem.” Yeah right. Al Gore isn’t too amused either.
Which all seems to be part of the five stages of climate denial. Stage 1: Deny the problem exists and only when the evidence becomes overwhelming that it does, move on to Stage 2: Deny there is a consensus. Like roll out your own pet scientists to cast doubt. When the scientific community actually can demonstrate it overwhelming agrees as 97.1% do, then it is time for Stage 3: Deny that if it is happening, that it is a problem. Stage 4 is to Deny we can solve it and Stage 5 is We are too late, so let’s keep on partying like there is no tomorrow.
But sorry deniers, we do indeed have a problem. China still leads the world in emissions and even though they are transitioning to renewables, it is no-where fast enough. Australia seems to still think that its economic future still lies in coal, with plans to expand on a massive scale its Queensland mining operations.
And we certainly can’t look to the new Australian Coalition Government to rein them in, with one of their first acts being to dismantle the Climate Change Commission. However, in what might a faint ray of hope, the Australian public have banded together and donated funds to keep the same team together – now called the Climate Council. And who knows - without government oversight and interference, they might be an even more effective voice. Hope Tony Abbot doesn’t get his budgie smugglers in too much of a twist over this.
Even if he doesn’t, he had better be careful where he goes swimming, because the worldwide Jellyfish population is blooming including the Box Jellyfish, which is the most venomous creature on Earth. So why should we be concerned at the explosion in jellyfish numbers? Well not only are they sort of unpleasant to be in the water with, they also now compete with fish for sustenance and periodically clog the water intakes of thermal and nuclear power stations. These blooms are also huge, some of which can cover 30,000 square miles in ‘jelly curtains’ in what are effectively a killing field for fish and crustaceans. Jelly fish also appear immune to the effects of climate change. Warming oceans suits their ability to breed and increasing acidification doesn’t worry them as they have no shells to maintain. So how can we keep their numbers in check? One way would be for humans to eat them and this does happen in China and Japan where the annual consumption has now risen to 321,000 tons. Another way is to shred them.
In South Korea, scientists have invented a ‘Jellyfish terminator’. The terminator is a robot that sits on the water, uses cameras to detect Jellyfish then uses nets to suck up the jellyfish and shred them into pieces. The robot travels at 4 knots and can shred 880lbs per hour! A partial answer perhaps, but I think eating them might have to be the only effective long-term solution.
Our next two articles examines the impact hydraulic fracturing, or more commonly known as fracking, is having on communities and livestock in the United States. In short, not particularly great irrespective of whether you are a human or a cow.
In South Texas, residents are reporting the constant stench of rotten eggs. One family’s repeated complaints to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found dozens of hydrocarbons being released into the air. Some of these, Hydrogen Sulfide, can cause dizziness along with headaches, breathing and heart problems; Toluene is a source of fatigue, neurological problems and kidney damage; benzene - prolonged exposure to this chemical can cause leukemia. Little wonder that the fracking companies are not in any rush to disclose what chemicals they are using.
Unsurprisingly livestock that come into contact with fracking chemicals also suffer adverse effects. In a comparison between two herds; one where livestock drank from an allegedly wastewater polluted creek and the others that did not. Of the 60 stock in the herd that drank from the polluted water supply, 21 died and 16 failed to produce calves. Of the 36 that weren’t exposed, only one cow failed to breed. It would appear that as conventional and safer sources of oil and gas become depleted, so does the regard for safety and other considerations.
Wrapping up this week, we visit our close Pacific island neighbour Tokelau. Prior to 2012, the 1,500 residents had to rely on three diesel generators at the cost of $800k a year for their energy needs.
Due in part to the generosity of the NZ Government, they now have three solar photovoltaic systems, one on each atoll. The 4,032 solar panels, 392 inverters and 1,344 batteries meet 150 percent of current electricity demands. In overcast conditions locally sourced coconut oil runs generators to boost energy production. Although a small island nation they are providing 100% of their electricity needs from the sun and locally produced coconut oil, congratulations.