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B&GT’s top 10 most popular articles in 2014 so far

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Thank you for continuing to read the news, features and reports we write. We continue to grow rapidly and wouldn’t be doing so without our readers.

As a celebration of our progress, here’s a rundown of the most-read Blue & Green Tomorrow articles from the first three months of 2014.

1. Thames rubbish could devastate ecosystems, research finds

From January 3 2014: Scientists have discovered thousands of pieces of plastic submerged on the riverbed of the upper Thames Estuary, threatening wildlife in the river and the sea it feeds into. Continue reading.

2. Petition to ‘stop SeaWorld from imprisoning whales for profit’ passes 200,000 signatures

From March 9 2014: A petition to make it illegal for Californian marine parks or zoos to use orca whales for entertainment purposes has gathered 200,000 signatures. Continue reading.

3. Flood warnings remain in place across south-west

From January 11 2014: The Environment Agency has put nineteen flood warnings in place across the south west of England, with floods expected to cause further disruptions. Continue reading.

4. UK weather: stormy weather forecast for the rest of the week

From February 5 2014: The stormy weather, comprising of heavy rainfall and gale-force winds, is set to continue in parts of Britain for the rest of the week and into the weekend, the Met Office has said. Continue reading.

5. 1m people sign petition to ban SeaWorld’s ‘whale imprisonment’

From March 23 2014: An online petition set up to force SeaWorld to release orcas from captivity has attracted support from over 1m people. But the Californian marine park chain has hit back after reportedly hiring a former BP lobbyist to help fight its corner. Continue reading.

6. UK weather: flood warnings for so far largely untouched London and south-east

From February 7 2014: Further torrential rain and strong winds are likely to bring flooding to areas of the UK that have so far managed to avoid the worst of the weather, forecasters have warned. Continue reading.

7. Investors warn of ‘carbon bubble’ as Shell predicts climate regulation will hit profits

From March 14 2014: Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has warned that its profits are likely to be affected by international efforts to curb climate change, as campaigners say investors should steer clear of fossil fuel stocks. Continue reading.

8. UK weather will ‘change rapidly’ because of climate change, experts say

From January 6 2014: Experts have warned that the UK must prepare for more flooding and gale-force winds in the coming years, as climate change continues to make extreme weather more likely. Continue reading.

9. Scientists discover four new manmade ozone-depleting gases

From March 10 2014: Four new manmade gases, possibly derived from chemicals in insecticides and solvents, have been found to be damaging the ozone layer, which helps filter harmful ultraviolet rays. Continue reading.

10. Worst heatwave ever in Argentina leaves seven people dead

From January 4 2014: An exceptionally hot week caused the death of vulnerable people in Argentina and left the country’s capital Buenos Aires without power for days, as temperatures hit 45C in some regions. Continue reading.

Top 5 most popular features in 2014 so far

1. Sochi 2014: how Russia’s Winter Olympics have failed on sustainability

From February 7 2014: The 2014 Winter Olympic Games start in the Russian city of Sochi on Friday. They open amid controversy and questions around sustainability and human rights. Continue reading.

2. Video: big six crumble in Ecotricity’s second ‘Dump the Big Six’ film

From December 13 2013: Following the success of a video launched called Dump the Big Six, green energy supplier Ecotricity has launched Dump the Big Six II in a bid to persuade consumers to switch to more sustainable alternatives. Continue reading.

3. Top 10 reasons to invest in renewable energy projects

From July 13 2013: Rebecca O’Connor, editor of renewable energy investment platform Trillion Fund, goes through 10 good reasons for investing directly in renewable energy projects. Continue reading.

4. Will Barclays become the world’s first ethical banking superpower?

From February 12 2013: After a year to forget in 2012, Barclays chief executive Antony Jenkins appears intent on restoring the bank’s Quaker principles of honesty, integrity and plain-dealing. Will it turn into the world’s first ethical banking superpower? Continue reading.

5. UNWTO: leading the global drive to sustainable tourism

From July 22 2013: Blue & Green Tomorrow caught up with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation – the world governing body for the travel and tourism industries – about its work in pushing for sustainable tourism. Continue reading.

Top 5 most popular guides in 2014 so far

1. The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

2. The Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013

3. The Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014

4. The Guide to Sustainable Funds 2013

5. The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2014

Photo: Ivaylo Georgiev via stock.xchng

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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