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.

Firstly, I would like to welcome IAG NZ as our latest subscriber to e-Bench™.

For many of us the term ‘sustainability’ is still associated solely with the environment. In practice, it is of course far wider than that, spanning social issues and also financial viability. A recent study undertaken by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, of which Wellington’s Nicky Hager is a member, found that somewhere between $21 and $32 trillion has been salted away in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands and Cook Islands. To get these sums into perspective, this is around the annual GDP equivalent of the United States and Japan combined. Whilst the sums in these tax havens only continues to grow, so does the national debts of the same countries where the wealth is being created. Simply put, this is a debt bubble and totally unsustainable – some lessons to be learned from Cypress here…

Not that protecting the environment is in any way diminished. We retrospectively examine a 2010 statement issued by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, where they called on countries to better protect the environment or face a collapse of their economies and loss of culture. We would like to think three years on that their words had been heeded, but alas if anything, we have only accelerated our destruction of the environment.

As a case in point, we look at how China is flexing its economic muscles in Latin America to carve out lucrative trade deals at the expense of the local people and environment. A good, or depending on how you look at it, bad example of this, is in Ecuador where the Amazon is being plundered by Chinese oil companies.

As for climate change, there is now clear scientific evidence spanning over decades that shows the world is immersed in a warming climate. In 1996, Myles Allen used computer simulation, mixed with historical patterns, that predicted the decade ending December 2012 would be a quarter of a degree warmer than the decade ending August 1996. And he was right to within a hundredth of a degree. For physical proof of a warming world, we need look no further than Australia, with their infamous “Black Saturday” bush fires in Victoria, to the Queensland floods in early 2011 and 2012.

In the Northern Hemisphere linkages between Artic Sea ice loss and climate change continue to be made. The greater the loss of the reflective sea ice, the more heat is absorbed by the ocean, the higher the atmospheric pressure, which in turn impacts on the jet stream. Cold comfort for anyone in the UK though.

With oceans making up 75% of the surface area of Earth, you would expect them to be playing an important role in absorbing CO2e. And, so they do with oceans absorbing a quarter of the carbon in the atmosphere. Unfortunately this CO2e is causing the PH level of the water to become more acidic. This in turn is having some profound detrimental impacts on sea life, especially shellfish.

What does climate change and zombies have in common? Apart from both being the subject matter for movies, there is another surprising parallel. With an acknowledged temperature increase of 2C being the bogeyman to be avoided, governments and public are lulled into inaction, safe in their perception, that action is not required until we get close to those limits. Not so, given the inertia of the system responding to the CO2e that has already been released. So we sleep walk into a disastrous future. Climate change is like a zombie movie where there is no happy ending.

Our next set of articles highlights how and where we can tackle the carbon monster that is climate change. Well a good start would be to make it more expensive simply by removing the $1.9 trillion in annual energy subsidies as the IMF are urging. Reducing, or at best eliminating some of those subsidies and replacing them with an appropriate carbon tax could cut GHG emissions by 13% - emissions from natural gas and oil which are the second-biggest source of U.S greenhouse gases.

Energy returned on energy invested (EROI) for tar sands and shale gas is much lower than traditional conventional sources. For example, the average EROI for conventional oil is 25:1, meaning that it takes one unit to extract every 25 units of oil from the earth. Tar Sands on the other hand, can have an EROI as low as 3:1. As Tar Sands are incredibly energy and water intensive to process as well as environmentally toxic, why are we even bothering to extract them in the first place? In other words, what kind of economy says it is okay to take tar sands bitumen and transport this in a proposed new Keystone XL pipeline from Canada through the heart of the U.S to the Gulf Coast (that’s 2,700 km of pipe!). Oh, and these pipelines always leak – just ask the residents of Arkansas.

A forward thinking society would surely instead pursue endeavours that were more sustainable, such as solar photovoltaic. Well the good news is that the electricity generated by all the worlds installed solar photovoltaic panels is likely to have surpassed the amount of energy going into fabricating more modules – a net energy benefit to society. Furthermore, global PV production is expected to hit 35 GW in 2013, growing at a rate each year of 10-15%.

Our next article examines the ‘Pay as you Weigh’ system introduced by Samoa Air – described tongue in cheek as a very small airline with a rather large customer base. Many nations and individuals are feeling the effects of ‘easy’ eating and a less active lifestyle which has ultimately lead to increases in obesity. With fuel consumption directly linked to payload, it seems like they might have good reasons to be reviewing their policies.

We end this week on a positive note, with the news that the Auckland Museum has reduced its carbon emissions by 31% over the last two-years. Improvements in air-conditioning control strategies, LED lighting, recycling, etc. has cut consumption of natural gas and electricity with savings of $340,000 and reductions of 600 tonnes of CO2e a year. Great stuff.

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