Welcome to our Snippets newsletter which, as always, endeavours to provide coverage of developments in energy and environmental issues from both here in New Zealand and around the world. We hope you continue to find our fortnightly collection of articles to be of interest in what is a rapidly evolving area.
Whilst recent media reports have already headlined the fact that this past February was the warmest month in recorded history, what they may not have done was to highlight just how widespread the warming was. Nor is this jump in global temperature a ‘freak’ triggered by an unusually severe El Niño, say researchers. “It is the opposite,” said Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey. “This is a catch-up of a recent hiatus that has occurred in rising global temperatures. We are returning to normality: rising temperatures. This is an absolute warning of the dangers that lie ahead.”
One part of the world that has known things have been heating up for some time is the Middle East, with reports that the drought in the region is the worst in 900 years. It was certainly a major contributor to the urban population shift, which in turn has led to increased unrest and ultimately civil war in Syria.
In a recent study published in Science Advances, it has been estimated that over 4 billion people, approximately two-thirds of the world’s population, face severe water scarcity for at least one month out of the year, with the most vulnerable regions being India, China, Australia, the western United States, and the Arabian Peninsula. As this article discusses, water is certainly a big driver in leading to conflict.
We now take a look at waste. It is usually automatically assumed that zero-waste programs are going to be expensive. However, the article by ECO-Business sets out 5 ways in which organisations such as Kraft, Pepsi and Dell have all been able to turn these programs into viable revenue streams. Their methods include how to deal with building and demolition waste, to carpets in offices.
Zero-Waste can be tricky to define. The use of the word can have multiple meanings and can be misunderstood. This next article from Greenbiz discusses the definition and relevance of Zero-Waste, and gives examples of how organisations can use these programs to their benefits.
More examples of successful zero-waste programs are seen in the following article. Organisations such as IBM and Walmart use their Zero-Waste plans to benefit not only the environment, but also turn these programs into profitable revenue streams.
Moving to the other end of recycling and Zero-Waste programs, this article by Greenbiz, discusses the inner workings of recycling centres. It poses questions that usually do not get asked, or answered directly. On top of this, it exposes how many non-recyclable products are sent to these stations every week, and how the facilities deal with them.
Plastic has long been a problem with its seemingly non-biodegradability and pervasiveness. Recycling is not a long term solution. Scientists in Japan have discovered that some bacteria have evolved to use plastic as their food source, degrading it within six weeks. It seems that with so much plastic around, if no other food source is available, bacteria are able to rapidly evolve, and have done so. Nature is finding a solution to a man-made problem.
But what will it take to get rid of plastic from the oceans? Most ocean debris ends up in the five big subtropical ocean gyres. Perhaps one day the bacteria will solve the problem, however, until then other solutions should be considered. The next article discusses many ideas and possible solutions for this seemingly impossible task. A part of this article that surprised us was the discussion of nanoparticles and their invasiveness in our society. Sources of these are things that you may not have ever have considered.
We now look at some other interesting individual articles.
First, we look to China, where a new five year plan has been unveiled. This plan involves an economic, social and environmental blueprint for the country’s development through to 2020. The country’s leaders have stated that the old growth model (based on fossil fuels) has run its course.
Reducing emissions is something we are all too aware of. However, what if we could utilise carbon in day to day applications, such as producing plastics and cement? In this article, we look at a number of organisations working in this space, and it looks encouraging. Amongst these organisations are Bodyshop, working in partnership with Newlight using Air-carbon to make containers and caps. And Solidia Technologies has developed a type of cement that is produced at lower temperatures, and through a different chemical reaction, generating less CO2 than conventional cement production.
In this fast paced world we live in there is something to be said about the ‘Good Old Days’. We now take a look at the humble, but very important, bee. Sometimes doing stuff the good old fashion way works best. Intensive farming based on one output can have a lot of risk, with crop failures, fluctuating international prices etc. Diversifying and having a mixed farming model, is safer for both the farmer and the bees. The examples provided here highlight the plus sides in places including India and Africa.
We finish up this week with a look at Project Litefoot. Imagine well known New Zealand sporting greats competing, with their main goal being reducing their carbon footprints. The likes of Conrad Smith, Michael Campbell and others are doing just this, doing the right thing and leading by example. We hope to see more well-known (and not so well known) New Zealanders taking up this challenge.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we 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.