The conservation charity, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), announced today that preparations have begun to allow male polar bear Arktos to meet female polar bear Victoria for the first time. This is the latest and most exciting step in our efforts to support the European breeding programme for this at risk species, which is currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of endangered species.
Helping to protect the future of polar bears is not a straightforward task, as it is the loss of sea-ice due to climate change that is the primary threat to the species. Research shows huge uncertainty for the future of polar bears in the wild, with estimates suggesting that the global population could decline by over 30% in just three generations if sea-ice loss continues as projected*. RZSS believes that it has a duty to assist with the establishment of a healthy population of ex-situ animals, not as a substitute for conserving the species in the wild, but to ensure that there will be as broad a range of options for them in the future.
A large 3 by 1.5 by 1.8 metre transportation crate was manoeuvred into position in the male polar bear enclosure on the morning of Friday 19 February and, over the next month or so, eight year old Arktos will be habituated to it. Slowly and steadily, the process will see his keeper’s use positive reinforcement training and his favourite foods to get him used to the new addition to his enclosure. Eventually Arktos will be comfortable enough to enable his keepers at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park to transport him the one mile distance across the Park to Victoria’s enclosure.
Arktos is expected to travel the short distance to begin his courtship with Victoria around mid-March. A great deal of planning went into the development of Victoria’s enclosure in the Highlands and it was specifically designed with breeding in mind. The enclosure is believed to be unique as it offers maximum animal management flexibility with both a large main enclosure and a smaller holding enclosure, in which Arktos will live separate (but adjacent) to Victoria, until their behaviour indicates that signs are right for the full introduction.
RZSS has become known as one of the leading authorities on polar bears, with its enclosure design and husbandry approach being mirrored by other zoological organisations across the world. In total, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park devotes more space to polar bears than any other zoological institution in the world – over four hectares, or 10 acres, in total – and the enclosures features soft grassy areas, natural slopes, ponds and trees.
Modern polar bear husbandry has moved on dramatically and these enclosures are unrecognisable from those that were commonplace even up to ten years ago, where many of the negative stories about polar bears in captivity originate. Following comprehensive research by experts in North America and Europe, the zoo community now has an incredibly thorough understanding of both the husbandry requirements of the species and how to care for and improve cub survival rates.
Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, said: “When we first take Arktos to Victoria, he will live in a separate enclosure adjacent to hers. The two bears will be able to communicate and interact through a secure large fence to start with. We fully expect to see them showing an interest in each other right away.
“As with any introduction of large predators, the process must be approached slowly and carefully, paying close attention to positive behavioural indicators, like vocalisations and body posture. Whether we wait until Victoria comes into full breeding condition before mixing them together will depend on how they react to each other in the build-up to that key point.
Richardson added: “Polar bear conservation is definitely not simple or easy, but we have an important responsibility. As a conservation body with extensive bear husbandry experience, we truly believe we cannot afford to shy away from the task in hand. If we want to keep all the conservation options on the table for the future of polar bears, we must allow for the idea that a healthy captive population may provide a solution to the species’ plight.
“The birth and rearing of polar bears cubs will be of real value to the overarching breeding programme. As well as helping to highlight the plight of polar bears in the wild, any cubs born in the foreseeable future will remain within the vital safety net of the captive breeding programme. The shrinking polar ice-cap and shortening polar ice season has pitched the species to the forefront of conservation concerns.
Richardson added: “In an ideal world, conservation would happen first and foremost in the wild, but unfortunately this is not the scenario we are dealing with. The next best thing is a combined approach, with in-situ and ex-situ work taking place simultaneously and in a joined up manner. The zoo community has a duty of care to help this species survive and collectively our work is helping to preserve as varied a mix of genes as possible; it will also maintain the option of being able to return animals to the wild at some point in the future. Whilst Victoria’s cubs will never go back into the wild themselves, further down the line her offspring may well play a key role in restoring or augmenting populations in the Arctic.”
What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?
It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?
The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.
A Strategy, Instead of a Plan
But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.
The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.
A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth
But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.
Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push
While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.
The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.
But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.
This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.
Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.
In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.
It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.
How Much Energy Does Bitcoin Use, Really?
Many headlines have capitalized on the rapid rise of Bitcoin’s value. However, there’s a darker side of things that may entirely escape people’s awareness — the vast energy usage associated with Bitcoin mining. The practice involves adding information about transactions to a publicly accessible record called the blockchain.
Bitcoin miners increase the amounts of the cryptocurrency they own by being involved in mining. That means there is a built-in incentive to start mining and keep doing it. The energy consumption associated with mining may not be as visible as it is in traditional types of mining because everything happens in the digital realm — however, it’s exceptionally high, which is a cause of concern to many individuals in the know.
The Rise in Value Brings About Higher Energy Consumption
It’s not hard to find impressive headlines and news stories about how the value of Bitcoin has soared over the last few months. Many people even suspect they’ll soon witness the inevitable burst of a “Bitcoin bubble.” Miners are taking advantage of the current boom, though, which involves depending on power-sapping computers and related equipment.
In the early days of Bitcoin, it was possible to mine on basic home computer setups. Now, the most dedicated miners invest in the best computers around. In some cases, that means the machines they use are quite energy efficient, which is a good thing. However, the purchase of equipment that uses electricity well isn’t enough to make a significant dent in the overall Bitcoin energy usage.
The Approximate Energy Usage Statistics Vary
When you start doing in-depth research about just how much energy consumption Bitcoin demands, be prepared to come across many different figures. Although people are doing diligent research, they still can’t reach an agreement. For example, according to statistics from the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, the annual energy usage is just under 32 terawatt hours.
That’s the estimate for per-year energy use of Serbia and more than 150 other countries. However, analysts find it impossible to reach a unified conclusion about the per-transaction energy consumption for Bitcoins.
Figures from Digiconomist estimate one Bitcoin transaction takes 255 kilowatt-hours of power — or enough to power an American household for more than eight days. Marc Bevand, another analyst, disagrees with that figure, though his remarks on the matter are not as specific. He discusses how many of the highly publicized statistics fail to account for the technological innovations that occur as equipment improves.
He gives the example of an S9, which is a standard piece of Bitcoin equipment, claiming 16% of the S9’s revenues went towards electricity costs. If that figure is more accurate, it would mean each Bitcoin transaction uses enough power to keep an American residence going for just under four days.
Bitcoin Miners May Be Able to Branch Out From Cryptocurrency
Some Bitcoin miners are attracted to their trade for more reasons than just the lucrative and ballooning prices of the coins. People from a wide variety of industries, from banking to insurance, are looking at uses for blockchain technology. In the insurance sector, fraud costs $40 billion per year, but the verification method that miners understand and work with dramatically reduces fraud and makes blockchain appealing to insurance professionals.
Also, banks are increasingly researching Blockchain as a supplement to their current methods. As the prominence in the market goes up, the allure of being a Bitcoin miner does, too.
Also, going back to Bitcoin specifically, as the value of each coin goes up, people become more motivated than ever to invest in better technologies that help them remain profitable for as long as possible. When all these factors combine, it’s not hard to understand why energy consumption rises.
Do Banks Use More Energy Than Bitcoins?
Some analysts argue that even if the energy demanded by Bitcoins is exceptionally high, it’s still not at the level of energy used by banks. To keep things in perspective, it’s important to realize that the banking industry keeps its total energy usage figures under wraps, leaving people to do lots of speculating.
One analyst determined there are approximately 30,000 banks in the world, and each one has ATM networks, offices and other components that require electricity. When adding all the relevant factors together, the final figure this individual came up with is that banks use about 100 terawatts of power per year, less than the earlier-cited figure related to Bitcoins.
However, people have given opinions that the amount is too conservative. It does not include the energy used by bank employees, such as when employees drive to their offices or fly to meet clients. It bears mentioning, though, that the Bitcoin figures mentioned in this piece probably don’t either.
There are countless statistics about Bitcoin energy usage, and most of them are not promising. But instead of reading a few of them and immediately feeling shocked, it’s important for people to take a broad look at the findings and reach their own intelligent conclusions based on the collective research.
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