Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and development issues from both here in New Zealand and around the world. We hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a critical and rapidly evolving area.
“Water is life” is a well know saying and it literally means just that. Water in general is abundant but clean water is increasingly becoming a critical resource. Of the 1.351 billion km3 of water on earth only .01% (100 thousand km3) is available for human access. The bulk is sea water and the balance is in glaciers and ground water. Cost of accessing clean water places further restrictions on the amount of water that is available to the majority of the population. Water is a first environmental contact point for most pollutants. Historically human settlements were founded near water sources. Unfortunately this meant drinking water, food and waste and waste water disposal were all centred on the same water system. Even today the best way to keep surface water clean seems to be exclusion of economic activity from the water system.
In addition to issues of water pollution access to clean water is linked to changing precipitation patterns, lack of low cost extraction technologies, poor legal frameworks and even poor land use management. As the global population increases there is a growing demand for food and water which in turn is driving more intensive production processes. Here in New Zealand the obvious link is between dairy production and surface water. New Zealand dairy products are sort after globally but the intensification of dairy production adds a burden off surface water management for the producers. In Africa water issues include sanitation, low cost extraction and treatment and desertification. In North America frequent droughts are threatening the viability of agriculture in locations where irrigation is a critical input. On the other hand violent storms and flooding are a problem in low lying areas. Over in Asia, especially, China the issues are related to rapid industrialisation and disposal of waste from industry and energy transformation.
Clean water is not traded across continents but traded goods are a driver for local pollution. Economic issues are increasingly linked to migration, local conflict and sustainability. It is with this background that NASA researchers in the USA as well as the United Nations System are looking at cleaner water as a critical issue for global peace and security.
Major rivers such as the Nile in East and North East Africa and the Niger in West Africa are the mainstay of local economies and failure to balance the needs of private investors, communities and countries can easily trigger underlying conflict. Genevieve Bennett correctly highlights the need for business to wise up to water supply-chain risks. In the article several examples are given of how business can cooperate with communities to meet both their clean water needs. Needless to say such interventions require effective management to ensure achievement of goals.
Apart from human to human clean water can motivate conflict between human beings and wild life as well as between wild life species. The Mexican water monster, axolotl, is used by Associated Press to demonstrate how pollution threatens some unique life species. Despite being a potentially prolific breeder the axolotl is threatened with extinction because the water habitat is increasingly polluted. Once the natural habitat is destroyed there is no way to maintain the typical species as found in the natural environment as other threats such as limited genetic pools and disease would affect confined populations. Most of us have read about invasive plant species such as water hyacinth or duckweed taking over lakes and rivers. These are normally a natural response to increased nutrients due to pollution. The plants compete for dissolved oxygen thereby killing off fish and other aquatic life. Where humans extract freshwater from the same source, treatment costs increase.
Ashley Kindergan discusses the efforts being made by China to develop progressive policies in order to limit pollution. Rapid industrialization has had its toll on the local environment in China with industrial smog and land and water pollution continuing to have major impacts. New policies would need diligent enforcement whilst technology upgrades are sustainably employed to reduce pollution. Negative short term impacts of such actions on production are expected to hinder aggressive enforcement of the planned policies. Global presents of Chinese technologies would naturally be expected to help disseminate the cleaner technologies to lesser economies because there is a natural improvement in efficiency of technologies used in developing countries on the back of changes in exporting countries. As a member of the so called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) action that reduces pollution would hopefully inspire policy changes in other member countries.
Water quality is a cross cutting issue and is closely linked to energy management and efficient production actions. Traditionally energy management actions have been left to the energy user. Evolution of technology has led to the development of some networking opportunities that are now taking advantage of increased low cost connectivity to manage energy using devices. The prospects of cross border technical services to manage energy and other utilities should not be underestimated. Rapid development of communication infrastructure has the potential to reduce the cost of delivering lower cost and responsive energy supplies to both developed and developing communities. We present an article by Sara Gutterman, John Moore and Colin Dyer which address issues of networking devices and building automation. This approach will reduce the burden on maintaining internal staff with expertise in the control technology therefore broadening access to improved energy management. Smarter technologies also improve data collection which is an important tool for further cleaner technology development.
There is always a need for caution when implementing technologies in a fast paced development environment. Singapore is adopting smart technologies at a high pace. The reason being dependants on air conditioning. A growing urban population is driving a growth in urban buildings which in turn drives energy demand. Innovative architectural practices are being used as part of the Green Building Initiative that is seeing a high adoption rate for cleaner technologies. There may be concern that adoption of energy efficient air conditioners as opposed to sustainable buildings may give the impression that sustainable construction has a lower priority than air conditioning. However looking at Singapore as a city state with limited land, one would understand the emphasis on high rise buildings.
On an issue related to trade, water pollution and cleaner production Hamish McNicol discusses the move by Wellington based Flight Plastics to close the PET bottle recycling process. Recycling locally sourced plastic bottles would eliminate the need to import plastic flakes. PET bottles are an environmental nuisance and if not recycled would either be landfilled or would find their way into the sea. Recycling has obvious energy saving benefits as well as reduction of air pollution.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.