Geoff 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.

This week we open with the news that climate change is already stripping 1.6% or $1.2 trillion from global GDP and predicted to rise to 3.2% and $2.4 trillion by 2030. The report produced by DARA, a Spanish based NGO, also estimates climate change is already responsible for 400,000 deaths each year, mainly due to hunger and communicable diseases. Another 4.5 million deaths are linked to air pollution, hazardous occupations and cancer – all arising from a carbon intensive energy system. Perhaps the language used in this report will at last get the attention of politicians and economists...

One of the ramifications of climate change is variations in weather patterns, resulting in more extreme and frequent events such as floods and droughts. Further exacerbating these events is the over use of natural resources such as the extraction of underground sources of water - used for a variety of purposes such as irrigation, drinking water and energy production.

Our next series of articles examines how the combination of climate change and over extraction of water is posing some significant challenges. First up is how GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) is able to track and report on the depletion of ground water reserves. The second is how the US drought is causing significant problems for much of the Central Great Plains States. The situation is of such concern in some towns and counties that the use of water except to meet basic needs is banned. Overall, more than 30 US States are anticipating water shortages by 2013.

Water shortages have led to widespread crop failures, which has pushed the cost of feed to record levels. This in turn, has led farmers who cannot afford feed to liquidate their pig and cattle herds. In the US, farmers have already reduced their cattle herds to the smallest since 1973. This mass slaughter of millions of farm animals across the world is expected to push the average price for a basket of food up by 14% to their highest ever levels. While the increase in food prices is almost certain to lead to an increase in starvation and malnutrition across the world, global food traders are cynically expecting bumper profits. I found the comments from the multimillionaire head of Glencoe, rather chilling when he said the US drought would be “good” for the commodities trader because it will lead to opportunities to exploit soaring prices… Where is humanity in all of this?

And it is not just agriculture that is reliant on an adequate supply of water. Energy generation is also a huge consumer, albeit it differs depending on the form of generation. Nuclear and coal electricity generation consume vast amounts of water, mainly in their cooling systems. Biofuels are very water dependent and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) requires huge amounts of water per well, not to mention the challenges with safely disposing and containing toxic fracking liquid. Only wind and solar photovoltaics require little water in their electricity generation process. In summary, water is used in so many ways, that our whole society will be completely re-shaped if resources continue to become increasingly restricted.

Our last water article re-visits the Gaza Strip where Palestinians are facing a water crisis that unless it is resolved will soon make the Gaza unliveable. The aquifer that is presently providing water supplies is being rapidly drawn down and also becoming increasingly polluted and saline. The solution appears to be a new $500 million desalination plant, but obtaining funds is challenging, given all the other infrastructure demands in the Middle East.

Our next series of articles examines green buildings. The first of these discusses how the NZ green building sector is once again booming. Corporate social responsibility and operational cost savings are cited as the key drivers in the push for green offices.

And green buildings certainly offer operational savings, but more importantly increased productivity. The relationship between green buildings and improved Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) are inextricably linked. A better IEQ such as having fewer pollutants from building materials, cleansers, equipment makes staff less prone to sickness. Other attributes such as the availability of fresh air, daylight and views of nature, as well as controllability of lighting, heating and cooling, also all positively contribute. Studies have shown that a higher IEQ leads to students learning more, customers buying more, patients recovering faster and office workers being more productive. For example, a recent study at a Lockheed office facility where the IEQ was raised, resulted in a 15% increase in productivity and a 15% decrease in absenteeism.

These IEQ ratings are also reflected in financial valuations. For example, research in the US into LEED certified buildings (a similar scheme as operated by the NZGBC), reported an average 11% capital premium and a 15% to 18% higher rental premium on LEED certified office buildings over than that of comparable non-LEED certified buildings.

We are speculating whether China is going to introduce its own green building rating scheme or adopt LEED as they will surpass the US as the country with the most skyscrapers in the next five years. By 2017, China will have 802 such buildings, compared to 539 in the US.

Also covered off this week is the news that Bhutan aims to be the first 100% organic nation and Auckland Airport became the first NZ organisation to make the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Our final article takes up on one of the articles carried in last SnippETS where we discussed the possibility of driverless cars, only to find two days after we published that a Bill had been passed in California, actually allowing driverless cars to be released onto their highways from 1 January 2013. Perhaps this will lead to less road rage – we all hope so.

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.

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