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Saving the Planet: Where Will We Finish in Our Race Against Climate Change?

Manak Suri

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global warming

2017 will go down as yet another year in history with landmark changes in global warming and climate change. As estimated by the 2017 Global Carbon Budget, global carbon emissions this year are on course to touch a record high level of 37 billion tonnes. Also, 2017 is set to be among three of the hottest years ever recorded, the United Nations revealed earlier this month. Further, 2017 is also slated to be the hottest year ever on record which has seen no intrusion from the El Nino effect that results in heat being released from the Pacific Ocean about once in every five years.

“These findings underline the rising risks to people, economies and the very fabric of life on Earth if we fail to get on track with the aims and ambitions of the Paris agreement,” Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said of the situation ahead of the Bonn Climate Conference that took place earlier this month in Germany. Her sentiment is widely accepted and shared by the representatives of almost every country in the world, by environmental experts across the globe, by the media, by me and probably by you as well. However, in the blitz of repeated warnings and fresh facts nearly every week of every month, the only aspect that seems to be a regular is the lack of action on the issue especially on national and international levels, and that is concerning, considering the vigour with which promises are made by the leaders of some of the largest countries on the international stage. Thus, in the wake of fresh warnings by scientists on climate change, the developments in the recently concluded Bonn Conference do not seem as satisfactory when billed against these same warnings. Let’s have a look at each of the two.

A second warning: are you aware?

Starting July this year, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries have issued a global warning to humanity in a letter calling for a change in both attitude and action to save our planet and ourselves from our own recklessness. Titled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, the letter puts light on key issues that threaten our survival: shrinking freshwater resources and marine fisheries, an increase in the number of dead zones, declining proportion of forests, a decline in many vertebrate species, increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions across the world, and an increase in the human population towards unsustainable levels. The letter claims that with the current trends unchanged, many life forms will be extinct or headed towards extinction before the end of the century. However, it also credits humanity with one achievement of a decline in the presence of ozone depleting substances. The letter also lists the measures that are absolutely necessary to bring about the desired change. Some of these include restoration of forest areas, repopulating native species, reducing food waste and making dietary shifts towards plant based foods, and promoting education for women to reduce fertility rates. By the beginning of this month, the letter had received optimum attention from the media.

The movement, started by William Ripple of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, marks the 25th anniversary of the first “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ that was issued by nearly 1,700 scientists. “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated,” reads the original letter from 1992 under the sub-heading “warning”. It is a sad reminder of how little we have progressed in 25 years in our duty to make our home planet remain the home planet for the generations to come.

Bonn Climate Change Conference: Does slow and steady win the race?

In the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, world leaders pledged to ensure that their countries would do their best to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in this century. Since then, a Donald Trump led United States has backed out of the agreement, and climate experts worldwide have sounded alarms claiming that the goal is extremely difficult to achieve going by the current trajectory of the countries that are major contributors of carbon emissions.

The Bonn Conference on climate change or the COP23 in Bonn, Germany was held from November 6 to November 17 to further the negotiations between the involved parties on how the agreement is supposed to pan out 2020 onwards. Some minor yet positive developments at the conference included continued participation from the US delegation signaling their involvement despite Trump’s decisions to take a different course, the launch of the Powering Past Coal Alliance led by the UK and Canada the members of which seek to phase out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and a long awaited agreement between the parties to work on issues linking climate change and agriculture. That’s about it.

Many of the difficult decisions and issues to be tackled have been relegated to the following year. Negotiations took place on establishing a “rulebook” to govern the processes required to be able to move in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The deadline for this task is the COP next year in Poland, and a draft of the implementation guidelines was to be ready by the end of the Bonn conference. However, a lot of disagreements between countries on issues such as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) have resulted in the requirements of additional sessions to finish the draft in time.

The tussle between the developed and developing countries over the issue of climate finance arose throughout the talks and remains largely unsettled, again requiring additional sessions for a consensus to be reached among the parties. Further, leaders of island nations were left frustrated due to delays by wealthy nations in compensating these countries which are most threatened by the effects of climate change. “This means life or death for us”, said Tommy Remengesau, the president of Palau, saying that the issue “is a moral question, and it requires a moral answer.” The pace with which developments are taking place make it quite evident that we are still far away from the goals set during the Paris Accord. With the current trends, we are more likely to end up with a rise in global temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius this century, the results of which may be catastrophic. In the meantime, the warnings will keep increasing. They will keep increasing till the point at which they become regrets, a transition which it’s possible that many may not even live to see. “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home”, wrote Ripple in his letter in his bid to make anyone who comes across his piece aware of where we’re headed. Perhaps change will come only when we are made aware, albeit painfully, of what it is that we are losing, or that which we may have already lost.

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A student of economics with a keen eye for developments in the geopolitical sphere, Manak is a curious individual with a penchant for writing about anything that makes him ponder long enough.

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Environment

Ten Totally Awesome Ways To Save Water

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Living on a planet that’s mostly made up of water means that water is our biggest commodity here on Earth. We use it every single day whether we are showering, washing dishes or clothes, watering the garden or even using the toilet. In our homes, we use a lot of water and we rarely think about what we’re using. Most countries using water are fortunate enough not to have to worry about how much they are using each day, while there are other places in the world that do everything that they canfor the tiniest possible drop of water. 

In fact, half of the world’s global population doesn’t have access to clean drinking water, so it’s our responsibility to save as much water as possible and not waste it. Water waste depletes one of our biggest resources, and it makes sense to save water – and money – as much as we can. When you are running a home, the amount of water that you use has to be a concern for you as you are paying for the service of clean water piped into your home. Much in the way you wouldn’t stand there switching the light on and off to waste electricity, you need to learn how you can save as much water as possible. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at ten awesome ways you can do just that. 

Switch It Off

Such a simple thing to do, and yet it’s one of the things that people find hardest to do! Leaving faucets running while brushing teeth is not ideal and you can save tanks of water every year by switching the faucet off until you need it again. It’s the same as running the shower for too long when you are waiting for it to warm up and you to get in – give it five seconds and get in! You should also think about limiting the time that you spend in the shower to conserve the water you are running. If you see a water source running, turn it off and you’ll be saving energy, too.

Use Composting For Food

If you have leftover food, don’t throw it down the garbage disposal. The garbage disposal wastes a lot of water and you can save yourself the money and the water waste by throwing the old food scraps on the compost pile and giving the rest to the dog. The garbage disposal relies on water running to break down the food, so you are going to be making a big difference by switching it off.

Wrap Your Pipes

While it’s helpful to purchase slimline water tanks to catch any dripping water, you can save a lot of water by insulating your pipes. In the cooler weather, pipes have a tendency to crack and split, which makes them leak water all over the place. It also takes hot water a lot longer to flow through the pipes because they’re too cold to manage. So, if you insulate your pipes properly, you can prevent these two ways to waste water. By all means, get those water tanks regardless: you could always use new ways to save water!

Repair Cracks

We just mentioned that colder weather can make the pipes crack, and it’s true that this happens easily. Instead of wasting both water and money on this, why not start looking at getting those leaks repaired? It’s not just pipes, either. Leaky garden hoses, faucets, shower heads and broken toilets can all cause leaks in the system. Bring in an expert if you can’t fix it yourself!

Don’t Do Half Measures

Washing the clothes in the house can be time-consuming, but if you’re constantly putting on half-loads of laundry, you are going to waste an awful lot of water. It’s’ not just clothes: half-loads for dishwashers are just as detrimental to the water supply in your home. Wait until the loads are full before you run them, and you’ll be able to save a ton of water. 

Embrace Handwashing

Believe it or not, you don’t need to keep the water running when you wash dishes and clothes. You can fill a sink with water and submerge whatever you’re washing in the soapy water. All you need is a plug, and you can make sure that the sink doesn’t drain out while you are washing up. There’s no need to run a whole dishwasher just for one or two items.

Adjust Garden Hoses & Sprinklers

Whether you are working on a commercial garden or on your own, you need to adjust the hoses and sprinklers to ensure that you aren’t wasting any water. Put them all on automatic timers so that you can ensure that they turn off after the right time and not just keep watering! There’s no need to waste more money on watering the garden than necessary

Know Where The Shut-Off Is

Sometimes, you can make all the adjustments in the world and still find a leak in the house. You need to know where the water shut-off switches and valves are so that in the event of a leak that you cannot find or control, you can stop the flow of water. The last thing that you need is a street full of water and a flood threatening your basement. So, work out how to turn off the water and you can save yourself a lot of money and waste at the same time.

Go For Low Maintenance

If your garden is fully lawned and landscaped, you need to look at how you can make it more low maintenance. It’s lovely to have a lot of greenery but if you are going to be risking needing to water the garden almost continuously, then you could swap to artificial grass that doesn’t need your attention as often. There are plenty of plants who don’t use as much water, either. These are the plants you want to have in your garden if you are looking at saving water.

Choose Low-Flow

Low-flow toilets and faucets can help you to save water without even trying. You can even change your showerhead to a slow-flow option and ensure that you are saving water without any of the impact on your daily activities.

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Nuclear Power and Other Power Sources: How Do They Stack Up?

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Most everyone dreads the idea of nuclear war because of the abject devastation it would inflict on planet Earth. Yet few connect the dots between nuclear weapons and nuclear power — the same energy that makes atomic bombs and nuclear missiles so threatening is also harnessed to power electrical grids and other forms of infrastructure. When properly contained, nuclear power is the cleanest and most abundant energy source available. With all the concern over climate change and environmental degradation, it begs a huge question: why is the United States of America not generating more — much more — nuclear energy?

Capital Investment vs. Production Costs

Looking at it from one angle, a larger nuclear energy capacity is a no-brainer. Making electricity from nuclear sources is cheaper than using coal, gas or petroleum, i.e. fossil fuels. On average, using 2011 cash value, electricity cost 21.56, 3.23 and 4.51 cents per kilowatt-hour from petroleum, coal and natural gas, respectively. Nuclear power came in at 2.10 cents per kW according to data received by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Yet these simple ongoing production costs fail to tell the full story.

To up the power generating capacity of nuclear sources, additional plants are necessary. Some argue that the savings in electricity production means the nuclear utilities pay for themselves. What, though, are they paying for…and how long until the payoff? Engineering and constructing a nuclear power plant is very expensive. In fact, 74 percent of the cost of nuclear-sourced electricity is in the capital costs of creating the physical facility and technology for that purpose. Some estimates range drom six-billion to nine-billion dollars. Others estimate over $5,300 per kW before it begins paying for itself…in 20 to 30 years. These figures make the prospect cost-prohibitive to many decision makers in government and business.

Plentiful Energy at Low Costs without Nuclear Power

Were we living back during the oil shocks and embargoes of the 1970s, the urgency factor would be much higher concerning nuclear power in the US. The abundance of discoveries and advancement of technology have made fossil fuels more available at modest prices. Coal and petroleum are each low compared to their peaks. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” natural gas is ever more accessible and affordable. Though people may worry about the environmental effects of burning these substances, they are likely to continue usage to maintain a decent househild cash flow.

Still, even the renewable alternatives to traditional fuels are dropping in price. In terms of sheer volume, wind turbines and solar panels — for instance — have yet to match the output of fossil fuels, much less the overwhelming energy yield of nuclear. Nevertheless, their contribution to production in the United States is growing while their financial outlays are shrinking. Added to the two aforementioned renewable sources, hydro-electric power, biomass and geothermal each come in under 10 cents per kW. According to Forbes magazine, this makes them highly competitive with oil and gas financially.

Lack of Knowledge

The absence of urgency mentioned above relates to a third factor about why Americans are not expanding their nuclear production capacity. Generations have passed that are not well-informed about the potential and reality of nuclear power. A dangerous accident at Pennsylvania’s Three-Mile Island facility in the 1970s scared public officials and policy makers into backing off of a pro-nuclear agenda. The improvements and replication found in today’s safety protocols have been ineffective in re-booting a national conversation. Granted, the United States operates 97 nuclear reactors, more than any other country. Yet only four more are under design and/or construction compared to 20 for China.

Furthermore, France relies on nuclear for three-quarters of its electricity; several eastern European nations, half; South Korea, in excess of 30 percent; while the U.S. can claim around 20 percent. Clearly, the public knowledge regarding how clean and abundant atomic energy is meager; awareness of past accidents — including the Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl meltdowns of recent decades were, by contrast, reported widely by media outlets.

Advocates of nuclear power have work to do to bring Americans on board. Otherwise, dirtier, cheaper sources will continue to reign.

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Francisco Reynés: “We have to consider gas as the energy source with the most potential in the future”

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Natural Gas

Francisco Reynés, executive chairman of Naturgy (formerly Gas Natural Fenosa), has talked about the role of gas in the world as the energy source with the greatest potential in the future, at the 6TH IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum celebrated in Barcelona, Spain.

 Francisco Reynés has explained that the world “needs to talk about the different uses of natural gas and the gas technologies and innovations towards a sustainable energy future. We have to address the role of gas in the world as a future energy source, not only as a transition source of energy”.

 “The uses of gas are, as we all know, well beyond those of power generation. Gas provides sources for non-energy uses, such as petrochemicals or fertilizers, which have no clear substitute”, he added.

 About this possibility, Francisco Reynés has explained that “all of this will benefit and service the economic growth and development of the countries and economies around the globe. It is, indeed, a joint effort which we must all face with the utmost priority and the maximum care”.

Reynés has also insisted on the cooperation between governments, producers and even consumers to strengthen the security of gas supply on international markets. “The challenge for the future is how energy systems will evolve to meet greenhouse gas emission goals, and more stringent fuel quality standards while at the same time they respond to growing demand for affordable access to reliable energy services”, he concluded.

The 6th IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum aims to sharpen a collective focus on energy policies, market trends, and technology options that enable the gas industry to deliver inclusive growth and successful transformations for a secure, inclusive and sustainable energy future. Energy and climate policies, gas technologies and innovations as well as market fundamentals are ever more co-dependent but also vary across geographies.

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