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Hollande’s France and its shift from nuclear to renewables

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Francois Hollande’s presidential election will shed new light on France’s nuclear debate as the nation prepares for a likely energy source swing away from nuclear and towards renewables, writes Jamie Mckenzie.

The aftermath of the unprecedented triple disaster – quake, tsunami and crippled nuclear reactors – that struck the Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 11 last year told a story about the extraordinary resilience of Japanese society, and also about the imminent dangers of nuclear power.

Now, more than one year on, the Japanese Government has shut down all 54 of the country’s nuclear reactors following the human and environmental risks posed by the triple meltdown.

The aftershock from Fukushima shook global public confidence in nuclear power massively. Germany, which previously obtained a quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy, decided to implement a phase-out plan in response to growing pressure from anti-nuclear federal states.

Now, the German Government is shifting its energy policy towards energy-efficiency and renewable energy, focusing primarily on developing solar and wind as part of the vision to generate 20% of its electricity needs from renewables by 2020.

France’s newly installed president, Francois Hollande, already signalled his environmental views when he turned up to a ceremony at his presidential palace on May 15 in an environmentally-friendly Citroen car.

Combined with remaining public doubt over nuclear energy, the socialist leader’s new approach to energy solutions indicates that France – as one of the world’s nuclear powerhouses – may be next to phase-out the energy source.

Historically, France has been very active in developing nuclear technology, deriving over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy because of its long-standing policy on energy security. The nation currently has 58 reactors operated by Electricite de France (EDF) – a present situation created by the French Government deciding in 1974, after the global oil shock, to quickly expand the country’s nuclear capacity due to limited inland energy resources.

And it was not until 2003, that the first national energy debate called for the defining of France’s energy mix in the context of a sustainable development agenda which was increasingly percolating global governance.

In 2005, a French law established guidelines for a more transparent energy policy, setting out a research policy for developing innovative renewable energy technologies with greenhouse gas emissions reductions in mind.

Yet Hollande’s predecessor, Nicholas Sarkozy, and his centre-right party, remained fixed on nuclear power, giving little thought to the promotion of a more sustainable economy.

But now, Hollande has already committed to reducing the electricity generated from nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025. One of the first closures will be the Fessenheim power plant, whose twin reactors are the two oldest in France.

Perched upon the banks of the Rhine and just 1.5km from the German border, the geographic location of the plant marks a boundary between nuclear ambitions – one of which will now change as France and Germany begin to converge in their previously diverging nuclear trajectories after Fukushima.

Since its construction in 1976, anti-nuclear campaigners and ecologists have continually targeted the Fessenheim plant, voicing concerns about the danger of weapons proliferation, imminent plant meltdowns and inadequate waste disposal management. More specifically, Fessenheim has received criticism because of its position in a seismic zone, as in 1356, an earthquake destroyed the city of Basel – just 30 miles south.

In addition, the concrete containers which surround Fessenheim’s reactors are too thin to meet French regulatory standards, measuring just a fraction of the thickness of those at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan – one of which ruptured in the disaster there.

The dangers of nuclear power are clear. But in both Germany and Japan, questions have been raised over how well the energy supply gap can be filled without nuclear, and indeed without adding to carbon emissions caused by turning back to fossil-fuel consumption.

In Germany, a recent meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and energy industry executives posed several challenges in the shift towards green energy. The issues will be discussed at a meeting of German state premiers on May 23.

In Japan, reactors may go back online if they pass “stringent tests”, but perhaps the Japanese Government should seize the new opportunity to focus on developing renewables to the point where Japan’s energy mix can be more sustainable in the long-term.

President Hollande will undoubtedly also face criticism for cutting back by 25% on a comprehensive nuclear programme that would have made France the world’s largest net electricity exporter, creating one of the nation’s strongest economic foundations.

Calling for an increased contribution from renewable energy into France’s energy mix, Hollande stated in his pre-election manifesto for France, that he intended “to preserve the independence of France by diversifying our sources of energy”.

Wind and solar will be the most likely target areas – bringing both environmental benefits and creating new jobs. But France’s currently installed wind power contributes just 2.8% of the electricity consumed in the country – and although there is growth potential in the industry, the bulk of wind power is concentrated in Northern Europe. There will be higher promise in France’s photovoltaic and solar thermal sectors – but decisions have not yet been made.

Clearly, in countries with limited internal energy sources, nuclear power can provide a secure and carbon-free electricity base-load – but one that must be complemented with renewable energy.

Technologically-advanced governments should focus on investing in to the development of renewables technologies to boost the cost-effectiveness of clean energy. Only when the renewable potential is fully realised can nuclear power plants be taken offline – and only then – will there be a safer, cleaner and more sustainable energy solution for the well-being of ours planet and its future generations.

Further reading:

Surviving without nuclear power

Fukushima: one year on

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2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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