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Jonathon Porritt: the wonderful world of clean energy technology

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At an event hosted by Ingenious Clean Energy, renowned environmentalist Jonathon Porritt asks whether we’re at the point at which our circularity with energy gets broken, and where we really do start to do things in a very different and cleaner way.

I have a few bits of bad news to start with. This year, we’ve witnessed the worst ever, fastest ever and most profound melting of the Arctic sea ice. Every summer, the sea ice melts away a bit and comes back again in the winter, but this year, it’s the deepest, most profound melting we’ve ever seen. Scientists are now shocked, not just surprised or concerned, but shocked by the degree to which these things are exhilarating.

Five years ago, climate scientists predicted the Arctic would be ice-free from about 2050-2060. Now it’s predicted to be 2020-2025. The speed of the change is utterly extraordinary, which is why scientists are deeply concerned.

There have been profound droughts in America, Russia and the Ukraine, which are now impacting on food prices across the entire world. The increase in average food basket in the UK is £5.62, and in 2013 it will get a great deal worse. And that awful sight is of course linked to the terrible weather here in England.

The funny thing is, the stories about the Arctic, the Corn Belt in America and the wretched summers in England are all connected. Because as the Arctic gets a little bit warmer, it changes the flow in the jet stream which makes the central belt in America warm up and creates what will now reliably be known as the English monsoon. Nobody has yet done an economic calculation of what happens to the British tourism industry when this becomes an on-going reality; not just another bad year.

I’m almost at the end of the bad news. Every year in India, three monumental coal-fired power stations are built. When the country launched onto the capital market around the world two-and-a-half years ago, there was literally no limit to the amount of money it was able to go out and raise. And one of the reasons we are not doing as well as we should be is because the incumbent power brokers in our economy are still incredibly powerful and able to dominate the way in which capital markets work. This is really our challenge, and that is all down to politics.

Now onto the better news. Dr Nawal Al-Hosany is director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize in Abu Dhabi. I was there a couple of weeks ago and I went to visit what is the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert. You have to suspend your sceptical approach to this for the moment because of course; under our feet is a vast sea of oil, producing enough revenue to allow Abu Dhabi to invest in concentrated solar power plants which are actually quite expensive.

It’s an astonishing thing, though: 120km of nonstop parabolic troughs. The cleaning machine takes a day and a half to get round it. It will come on stream properly at the end of this year. It’s a staggering piece of engineering; it’s beautiful. We could only stand next to it for so long, because the temperature was just so hot. It was incredible.

What Ingenious Clean Energy is doing is inviting people to get really excited about what the technology pipeline looks like for a genuinely sustainable, fair world over the course of the next few decades, and there is literally no limit to the excitement you should have.

We’re a bit more familiar with the standard roof-mounted PV; it’s still a bit of an oddity here in the UK as not many people have done it, relative to the total population. But in Germany, it’s pretty much standard across rooftops. Unfortunately, the way we do things in this country tends to increase regulatory and political risk whereas in Germany and other countries, they managed that risk really well and created a completely different situation.

The UK government in its wisdom has decided that the maximum amount of solar energy we can ever get in the UK, despite the fact that our climate is not that different from Germany, is 22 gigawatts. Nobody knows where that figure came from, and I’m sure it will disappear in due course, but it just shows you how weirdly arbitrary and completely dysfunctional our politicians are. This is not a good scene from a regulatory risk unfortunately.

The pipeline of innovation in all of these technologies is bulging to a degree that you can barely imagine. The irony of this is that our scientists and technologists around the world read the rumours about climate change a good decade ago, and at that point a flow of investment into new technology began to work its way through universities and start-up entrepreneurs, and people began to say that our energy future was going to look very different by 2020-2030.

And at exactly the time when the politicians seem to be stepping back, the pipeline is getting fatter and fatter. Not just for energy; for transportation, waste management, water, soil structure, managing soils properly, building materials and construction. Every bit of what a sustainable world is about has this incredible interconnection of new technology and innovation coming forward, and once we get our heads around how incredible that will be, I tell you, it’s a wonderful world.

I’ll leave you with my last thought. We’ve been talking about this revolution for a long while. In Japan right now, because of Fukushima, they’ve had about 35% of their total electricity generation capacity taken off grid. Can you imagine what would happen in the UK if we lost that percentage of our total generated capability? Japan is now going through a change process which no OECD country has gone through, in conditions of similar stress since America was hit by Pearl Harbour.

It’s fascinating what’s happening there; huge investment in energy efficiency, which they were always brilliant at, renewable energy, which they were always rubbish at, and energy storage, which nobody has got the hang of as yet but is actually the thing on which the whole renewable energy revolution depends on. Out of trauma comes extraordinary inspiration and a different spirit, and they don’t have a choice about it; they probably wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for what happened at Fukushima, because they rather like their nuclear power but they couldn’t do it that way any longer and that’s a country on the move.

Thomas Edison is one of my great heroes. I’m a huge admirer of entrepreneurs, engineers and people who make things with their hands and create the conditions for our world to deliver what we want in terms of goods and services that we depend on. In 1931, Edison said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Well, we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out because that won’t happen for quite a while to come. His challenge in 1931 is just as important to us today.

This is a story about massive scale transformation of the entire energy economy and a transformation of all our lives, which is what makes this so brilliant.

This is an edited version of a speech made by Jonathon Porritt, who was speaking on October 17 at an event hosted by Ingenious Clean Energy.

Further reading:

Arctic ice reaches record low with more melting expected

The climate clock is ticking. Normal isn’t working. What should we do differently?

To tackle the melting Arctic is to tackle climate change itself

Why policy is the biggest stumbling block of all for renewable energy

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy

Editors Choice

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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