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UN climate summit: ‘it will take everyone to change everything’



We live in dangerous and uncertain times. If climate change is the defining challenge of our age, this week will go down as a pivotal moment in history.

Today, in New York, world leaders will meet to discuss our warming world. The one-day summit has been convened to pave the way for success in a crucial UN climate conference in Paris next year.

Those talks, to be held in 15 months’ time, increasingly look like our last chance to establish a meaningful global accord to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

In the largest ever demonstration of its kind, around 600,000 people joined more than 2,600 events and rallies in 156 countries on Sunday to demand such action.

In New York, more than 310,000 people took to the streets. In London more than 30,000 marched, united with more than 25,000 in Paris. From Aleppo to Melbourne and Delhi to Rio, people marched together for environmental justice.

No deal will be signed in New York, but if the Paris conference is to succeed, leaders must start the ball rolling today. From this week it is possible to imagine two distinct scenarios emerging.

First there is the nightmare scenario. A world of runaway climate change. Temperatures would rise anywhere between 4-6C by the end of the century; our weather would become ever more extreme, and sea levels would rapidly rise.

Species, ways of life, cities, and even entire islands would be lost. 

Climate change would create hunger and drought, breeding new hotbeds of extremism and war. It would hit hard economies across the world, as all credible estimates reckon the cost of unabated climate change to be higher than the cost of preventing it. And it would hit the poorest hardest of all.

Then there is the alternative. A world powered sustainably with renewable energy, with a stable climate and economies that respect the planet’s limited resources. A world secured with an uncompromising global pact. 

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the post-Paris reality will be somewhere in between – with an unambitious global deal that limits the chaos but does not do enough to stop our climate being irreparably damaged.

But on our current course, scientists fear the worst-case scenario will be locked in within the next few decades. Experts warn that the window of opportunity is closing fast. This is why we must act now.

It may be our representatives in New York and Paris who author and enforce the global deals, but governments, businesses and civil society each have a crucial role to play in stopping climate change.

As long as citizens appear apathetic towards the climate challenge, and pessimistic about our chances, so will our politicians. We must all stand up and be counted.

You do not have to take to the streets to be counted. You can invest your wealth responsibly. You can move your money to a bank that uses it more ethically. You can buy locally sourced or fair trade products.

You can drive a greener car, catch the bus, take the train, or walk. You can take a sustainable holiday.

You can support a community energy scheme. You can invest in a solar farm or wind turbine. You can switch to a green energy supplier. You can insulate your home.

You can hold your politicians to account for their unsustainable policies and inaction. You can donate to or volunteer for an environmental charity. 

And whatever you do to be sustainable, shout about it. As marchers proclaimed in all corners of the world on Sunday, “it will take everyone to change everything”.

Photo: Geoffrey Supran via Twitter

Further reading:

People’s Climate March: 600,000 demand climate action

Record 2014 CO2 emissions dwarf global expectations

People’s Climate March: World takes to the streets to demand climate change action

People’s Climate March London: Creative plans to lead mass protests against fossil fuel industry

Ban Ki-Moon to take part to climate march during UN climate summit


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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.


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