Welcome to our 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 articles to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
If you have been following climate change developments over recent years, you will probably be well acquainted with climate sceptics claiming there has been no warming for the last fifteen, or even eighteen, years. Or perhaps the less shrill tone from some climate scientists conceding there had been a hiatus in warming. Except as it turns out, both are, and were, wrong. As the latest study issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reveals – it was simply the way the data had been collected. Dr Tom Karl, Director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centre, said “There is no slowdown in warming, there is no hiatus”.
Now that it has been re-established the world has, and is continuing to warm, what might we have to look forward to? Surely in a world with higher CO2 levels, plants would have an easier time of it. Well, no, as new studies by the University of Hawaii and University of Gothenburg have revealed. For example, it has been calculated that excessive heat and drought at the tropics will lose up to 200 suitable growing days a year – days when temperature, soil moisture and sunlight favour growth, rather than retard it. But of course this is going to be offset by land at the higher latitudes becoming more conducive to growing crops? Well, again no. The limitations of available daylight will still be with us, meaning the growing seasons will be much shorter than at the tropics. Not only are we going to be faced with an impaired ability to grow crops, those that do grow are going to have less protein due to higher CO2 levels hindering the ability of plants to absorb nitrogen. Which all means a future with limited or no beer, chocolate or coffee. Not looking too good, is it?
As more is learnt on the impacts of climate change, we see ever more real and threatening examples taking shape. One such example is Lake Mead in Arizona. It’s drying up, and farmers who are used to growing alfalfa in the desert are now having to give in to water shortages. Historical water use agreements failed to account for the limited water in this very dry region. We cannot continue making similar mistakes if future generations are to survive.
Furthermore, a large number of food companies are not taking water shortage risks into account in their business operations. Traditionally water has been viewed as cheap and plentiful, but these companies must now acknowledge that water availability is limited and what they use should be managed with a long term outlook. There are only a few companies who take actions to improve water availability in their supply chains, when really all must make it part of their day to day operations. Rich or poor, young or old, we all need water to survive.
Could desalination supply water to make up for this shortfall? We look at technological advances taking place to reduce their costs: new designs for membranes and structures that hold them; and how improving energy use and use of renewable energy can help solve some of the challenges associated with current processes. Innovations may not make desalination a cheaper option to extraction from rivers and aquifers, but may make water more available to populations at risk of shortages.
In Pakistan a scheme using ATMs to dispense water is in use to distribute minimum clean water requirements to poor families. Something a lot of us take for granted, but for these Pakistani’s it’s making a difference being able to access safe and clean water, using smart cards which allow participants to receive up to 30 litres per day. Making clean water available could save some of the estimated $1.1 billion that Pakistan spends each year on health care related to water quality, sanitation and hygiene.
Globally, there are many problems with the prevailing ‘business as usual’ attitude and we need to find ways to change course for the better. In October 2014 Snippets introduced some articles on the concept of the Circular Economy. Here we include the third in this series. It discusses how the linear economy, where the large quantities of waste generated are sent to the landfill, is not sustainable, and that changing the way we manufacture is the key to creating a more sustainable circular economy. We have examples of companies that are succeeding in thinking this way, and being successful in the process. Ikea have committed to spending a billion dollars, changing to renewable energy in their business, and helping communities affected by climate change. They expect to become energy independent, using only solar and wind power.
A local NZ company – Lanzatech, are also doing some very good work helping create a circular economy. They have developed processes to recycle a wide variety of carbon rich wastes, producing fuels like ethanol and jet fuel. They also have a process for producing Omega-3 fatty acids, from CO2 rich waste gas streams, which can be used in animal feedstock. Some smart ideas from our own back yard are being recognised internationally.
We next look at ‘How the Oceans can clean Themselves’. Every year we produce about 300 million tons of plastic, of which a portion ends up in the ocean. The damage to creatures that call the sea home is immense. This damage has a knock on effect, with an estimated $1.27 billion in fishing and vessel damage. A possible solution, detailed here, would involve passive collection points using floating barriers. As there is so much plastic floating around, these catchment areas would need to be cleared every 45 days. The level of thought, detail and testing that has gone into this project is very impressive. All the more so as the company head is a 22 year old who first considered the idea on a diving trip in Greece in his mid-teens. A young set of eyes brings with it fresh, exciting ideas that could well save our oceans from the menace of plastic.
As children are the future, what will our legacy be to them? Well, on our present course, the answer at this stage is an ecosystem in pretty bad shape! There is however a new weapon in the arsenal against climate change, ‘Pester Power’. One of the world’s leading climate economists Lord Stern is urging children and young people to “guilt trip” their parents and other adults into doing more to save the world.
So perhaps, if you think kids are important, then let’s help them out by stepping up and making a collective difference. Yay and high fives all round.
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.