ANOTHER PLANET?

BP_Petrol_Station“Our problem has a lot less to do with the mechanics of solar power than the politics of human power” …. “For a quarter of a century, we have tried the approach of polite incremental change, attempting to bend the physical needs of the planet to our economic model’s need for constant growth and new profit-making opportunities. The results have been disastrous, leaving us all in a great deal more danger than when the experiment began.” …. “it’s not too late to avert the worst, and there is still time to change ourselves… Because the thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. …. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”  This extract  is taken from the Introduction to This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein,  where the author calls the climate crisis a civilisational wake-up call to alter our economy, our lifestyles, now – before they get changed for us noting “It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when an elite minority was enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s”.

February is one of the first months since before months had names to boast carbon dioxide concentrations at 400 parts per million. Such CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have likely not been seen since at least the end of the Oligocene 23 million years ago, an 11-million-year-long epoch of gradual climate cooling that most likely saw CO2 concentrations drop from more than 1,000 ppm. Those of us alive today breathe air never tasted by any of our ancestors in the entire Homo genus. Greater concentrations will be achieved, thanks to all the existing coal-fired power plants, more than a billion cars powered by internal combustion on the roads today and yet more clearing of forests. That’s despite an avowed goal to stop at 450 ppm, the number broadly (if infirmly) linked to an average temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees C. More likely, by century’s end enough CO2 will have been spewed from burning long-buried stores of fossilized sunshine to raise concentrations to 550 ppm or more, enough to raise average annual temperatures by as much as 6 degrees C in the same span. That may be more climate change than human civilization can handle, along with many of the other animals and plants living on Earth, already stressed by other human encroachments. The planet will be fine though; scientists have surmised from long-term records in rock that Earth has seen levels beyond 1,000 ppm in the past.

sea_ice_polar_bearPledges at this year’s climate summit to cut carbon emissions are likely to fall far short of the targets needed to avoid heating the planet by more than 2C. That is the stark conclusion of a report by a team led by British economist Nicholas Stern. The group, based at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, concludes that action planned by countries – in particular the European Union, the US and China – will still leave the world emitting 10bn tonnes of carbon a year in excess of levels needed to prevent global warming from having devastating consequences. “Intended national contributions will not be consistent with the international goal of limiting the rise in global mean surface temperature to no more than 2C,” states the report, whose publication follows Saturday’s climate action march in London which organisers say was attended by 20,000 people. Scientists say 2C is the maximum increase in temperature the world can tolerate without risking environmental mayhem – which could include rises in sea level, melting of the ice caps, drought in Africa, America and Asia, storms and ocean acidification. Loss of ice caps would lead to less solar energy being reflected back into space, while thawing tundra would release more methane and other greenhouse gases currently frozen in polar regions . Both processes could lead to even greater temperature rises. More on the Guardian website here.

A slowdown in China’s economic growth helped the world to a pause in the upward rise in greenhouse gas emissions last year, according to new data. China burnt less coal last year than expected, as the projected rise in its energy demand faltered along with the rise in its economic growth, and as the expansion of its renewable energy generation continued. Emissions of carbon dioxide related to energy use were flat in 2014, compared with the previous year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday. Previous pauses or falls in the upward march of global emissions, such as that experienced in 2009, were closely related to economic shocks.  The 100 global power companies most at risk from growing pressure to shut highly polluting coal plants have been revealed in a new report . Chinese companies dominate the top of the ranking but US companies, including Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, occupy 10 of the top 25 places.

giant-tortoise-galapagosFor the first time in more than one hundred years, researchers have found newborn baby tortoises on the tiny Galapagos island of Pinzón. It’s a major win for a population that has struggled after being nearly decimated by human impact. “We found ten tiny, newly hatched saddleback tortoises on the island early last month,” wrote a trio of researchers in the January 15th issue of the journal Nature. “There could be many more, because their size and camouflage makes them hard to spot. Our discovery indicates that the giant tortoise is once again able to reproduce on its own in the wild.” More on the Huffington Post.

Tara+Fitzgerald+fishloveOver fishing, primarily by French commercial trawlers to meet growing public demand,  is rapidly depleting Sea Bass stocks in the North Sea. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea recently advised that the sea bass catch should be reduced by 80% in the English Channel, Southern North Sea, Irish Sea and Celtic Sea. However despite a EU ban on large trawlers, worries remain about small British trawlers which use trammel netting which catch breeding fish which could cause the population to crash by 2018.  The Angling Trust has called for catch limit in UK territorial waters.

And another fishy tale. The owner of the Dutch super-trawler Frank Bonefaas has been allowed to keep the £437,000 it received from selling an illegal haul of mackerel that it had caught in a protected area of the South West of England- designed to protect juvenile fish from fishing. Fisheries Protection officers from HMS Severn boarded the 120M trawler in March last year and found the catch – and last week the master and owner of te trawler were fined just £97,000 with £5,000 costs at Bodmin Magistrates Court – effectively meaning they profited from their crime after being allowed to keep it by the Marine Management Organisation. The MMO had invited the court to impose a fine matching the value of the catch but it has chosen not to do so according to the Times (11.03.15).

The Mountain Pine Beatle is decimating vast tracks of Canada’s forests. Canada has the third most forests in the world (3,101,340 km2) after Russia (7,762,602 km2) and and Brazil ( 4,776,980 km2).

The 48MW Southwick Estate Solar Farm in Hampshire is now operating as the UK’s largest solar farm following grid connection earlier this week.  The project, which is generating enough renewable electricity to supply the equivalent of 14,500 homes, has overtaken the UK’s previous largest solar farm – the 46MW Landmead solar farm in Oxfordshire – by just 2MW of capacity.  And the UK’s ‘buoyant’ utility-scale solar market could soon be the third largest in the world, according to industry experts. In a new report, Wiki-Solar – an international commentator on utility-scale solar – found that the UK is currently the fifth-largest market in the world when it comes to utility-scale solar, which is defined as systems above 4MW, and the nation is set to embark on an installation spree in the coming months.

Two separate reports have shed light on the expected upsurge in electric vehicle (EV) demand, and the multitude of benefits that this market growth will bring to the UK’s environment, economy and health. The first report, by technology market analyst BCC Research, charts the expected growth of the global EV market until 2019, while a second report from Cambridge Econometrics outlines how such growth would boost the UK economy, reduce national emissions and therefore lessen effects on human health. More here.

Biomass combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) remains the only credible route to deliver negative emissions to help meet the UK’s 2050 climate change targets, the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has reiterated.  The public-private partnership, which connects global energy and engineering companies such as BP, Rolls-Royce and Shell with the UK Government, has released a second report in the space of a month that stresses the importance of biomass to the UK’s future energy mix.The report builds on the ETI’s existing finding that not including biomass and CCS in the UK’s plans will double the cost of deliver a low carbon transition.

teaser313_bayer_bees_bundGreat news! German chemical giant Bayer has failed in its attempt to sue Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) over its claims that a pesticide, manufactured by Bayer, harms bees. This week a judge in Dusseldorf ruled that Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) had a right to voice its concerns about thiacloprid. Thiacloprid is a type of pesticide called a neonicotinioid. The European Commission banned 3 other ‘neonics’ – as they are often known – after damning findings back in 2013. Europe’s official food safety agency stated they posed a “high acute risk” to honey bees. Thiacloprid wasn’t among the banned neonics. It remains on sale in Germany, and in shops and garden centres here in the UK. There is evidence that it can make bees more likely to die from some common diseases – and can make it harder for them to find their way back to their hives. Friends of the Earth is now asking the European Commission to take a precautionary approach – suspend thiacloprid and review its safety.

China now has enough wind farms to produce more energy renewably than all that is made by America’s nuclear plants as the growing nation expands its power generation to fuel its new mega-cities. More here.

And a new poll has revealed that increased wind power capacity development in Scotland is not swaying support among Scottish adults, with it instead rising. More than seven in 10 adults polled in February 2015 by YouGov said they supported the continued development of wind power, rising from 64% in February 2013. Scottish Renewables said the capacity of onshore wind in Scotland has risen by 20% in the same period. Support was shown to be highest among Scots aged between 18-24, at 81%, and lowest among those aged 55 and older, but wind still receives support from two-thirds of that demographic.

Oxford University has deferred its decision on whether to divest fossil fuels from its £3.8bn endowment, saying the matter needed “thorough consideration”.

Mountain gorilla The boundaries of one of Africa’s oldest national parks, Virunga, may be re-drawn to allow a British oil company, Soco International, to drill for oil. The Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has already allowed test drilling and a leaked letter from the Prime Minister shows an apparent intention to to allow ‘minor modification’ to the National Park’s boundaries – the Park is home to the endangered mountain gorilla amongst many other animal species and plants.

Environmental group WWF has called on the EU to stop spending money trying to rejuvenate the current economy and instead reap the financial benefits of switching to a sustainable system.  The charity has published a new report, From crisis to opportunity: Five steps to sustainable European economies, to serve as a roadmap for European policymakers. Released ahead of a vote on Jean-Claude Juncker’s crucial €300bn economic stimulus plan, the report says the bloc would be better served focusing on the symptoms of the spluttering economy: diminishing natural resources and markets failing to take this into account. Damages from floods have cost more than €150bn over the past 10 years, air pollution costs around €537bn every year and EU industries import every year more than €300bn of raw materials no longer available in Europe, the report states.

A prototype toilet has been launched on a UK university campus to prove that urine can generate electricity, and show its potential for helping to light cubicles in international refugee camps.  Students and staff at the Bristol-based University of the West of England are being asked to use the working urinal to feed microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting. The project is the result of a partnership between researchers at the university and Oxfam, who hope the technology can be developed by aid agencies on a larger scale to bring light to refugee camp toilets in disaster zones.

The multifaceted landscape of sustainability reporting has become overwhelming for businesses and is leading to a general lack of engagement around CSR communication.  That was the argument put forward by Verity Lawson, sustainability reporting manager at British American Tobacco, at edie’s Smarter Sustainability Reporting conference in London. In a panel discussion featuring representatives from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and Global Compact Network, Lawson questioned the need for all of these sustainability reporting standards and frameworks.

The Five Green Laws are nailed to the front page of our manifesto,” proclaimed UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey as he announced further details of the green policies that the Liberal Democrat Party would implement if elected in May.  Davey and Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg confirmed details of two green policies this week: to double the UK’s production of renewable energy by 2020 through a new Zero Carbon Bill and to extend the upcoming plastic bag charge to incorporate all single-use bags. Both policies fall within the party’s ‘Five Green Laws’ which it plans to introduce in the next Parliament. The Zero Carbon Britain Bill, which the Lib Dems would introduce after the general election, would “end UK’s adverse impact on climate change”, according to the party.

More from the UK:  Around 12,000 new UK homes are being built at flood risk every year due to a failing climate change adaptation plan, MPs have warned.  The Environmental Audit Committee released its analysis of the National Adaptation Programme (NAP), finding that “there is no sense we are tackling priority risks”.

gm crop 2A commercial greenhouse in Australia that grows tomatoes using desalinated water produced by solar-thermal technology will save 700 million litres of freshwater and 14,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year. Sundrop Farms, which supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to businesses across Australia, has secured £76m worth of private funding for the 20-hectare (0.2km2) greenhouse in Port Augusta, South Australia. Set for completion in 2016, the greenhouse will use desalinated seawater to grow crops. And the on-site desalination plant will be powered by concentrated solar-thermal technology (not solar PV panels). “As the world’s population continues to grow, Sundrop Farms is de-coupling food production from finite resources and relying instead on renewable resources to grow the world’s food industry, not just profitably, but sustainably,” Sundrop said in a statement.

“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping.” Hubert Reeves

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