In the top story this week, The World Just Set a Record For the Cheapest Solar Farm, the Abu Dhabi Power Corporation announced a new solar power plant there. The solar farm is not only the cheapest solar installation per Watt of power, but it is also the largest – able to power over 160,000 homes in the region. It is ironic that in a country where domestic wealth is driven by the oil industry, the government is focussed on solar as the answer to their ongoing power requirements. Demand for traditional fossil fuel power generation has been falling and combined with a price war with Russia, record low prices are the result. Low oil prices mean reductions in revenue for the UAE. However, the prices for solar continue to drop as well, making it extremely attractive to any country developing or replacing power generation infrastructure. The fact is that once built, a solar plant stays in operation for 25 years or more with little maintenance. This low cost to build combined with low operational cost forces fiscally responsible civic planners to focus on renewables rather than burning oil, coal, or natural gas in order to move their society forward.
Iceland Ends Its Minke Whale Hunt. To be honest, I didn’t even know Iceland was still hunting whales. I have met several people in my travels to Northern Europe and Scandinavia from Iceland, and all of those I met were very excited to tell me about the whale population there and the tourism economy that is generated from whale watching. You can go on a historic sailing vessel (that was once a whaling ship) and view these magnificent creatures, or you can take a more modern trip, cruising on a battery hybrid vessel that allows comfortable, quiet interaction with the whales and a low carbon footprint. The title is somewhat misleading though. The whale hunt is over not because of any government policy, but because there is simply not enough demand for the meat. Almost all of the whale meat is sent to overseas markets like Japan, but the government subsidised whaling program there means that their local market is flooded with low-cost meat, making the Minke hunt unprofitable. Regardless, anti-whaling groups applaud the death of this industry in Iceland and now intend to step up pressure on Norway and Japan to end their hunts as well.
In the most recent meeting of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Bees were Declared The Most Important Species On Earth. Recent data about bee populations has not been positive, finding that they have been in decline globally. This is a very disturbing trend due to the fact that 70% of the world’s agriculture depends on bees. Without bees pollinating these crops they could fail, having grave consequences for our food security. The good news is that bees are now being protected more and more. France and other jurisdictions have banned certain chemicals known to harm bees and even celebrities have joined the cause with people like actor Morgan Freeman dedicating large tracts of land as sanctuaries of bees. Regular people are getting involved as well; all over the world small groups of people are building pollinator gardens where bees and other pollinating insects are finding refuge in cities or suburban neighborhoods.
Endless economic growth. Sounds nice, huh? Maybe not. The idea of a few wealthy people maintaining a growth curve for their personal gain is really very much last century. Kate Raworth is a UK based economist that has a better way called doughnut economics (here’s a 1minute video explaining it). It means that the value of the economy is not predicated on the financial growth of a few, but the societal and environmental health of all. It sounds utopian and far-fetched but maybe not. When you consider the fact that “the economy” is a human-made entity, it is not immutable and can be changed to anything we collectively want. There is no law of nature governing it, just the last century’s ideal of wealth creation above all else. As the 2020 coronavirus pandemic wanes and governments look to the future, they must consider the inconvenient fact that there is still a looming threat of climate change and societal inequity that must be considered. Amsterdam is now using the ‘doughnut’ model of economics, and it seems like the right time. The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world that is taking things seriously and has a thriving economy and standard of living. Due to their health care policies and societal reforms, they are also the only country closing their prisons- there simply isn’t enough demand to incarcerate people to warrant keeping them open. It isn’t because they do not prosecute criminals, it is because they don’t have much crime to begin with. If a crime does occur, they treat it like a mental health issue and fix the underlying problem. Rather than incarcerate as a punitive action, they view it as an opportunity to help society by truly trying to rehabilitate the prisoner.
The 2020 pandemic is a tragedy beyond much in recent memory, but it is also a brutal and hard wake-up call. It is a hard slap in the face, telling humanity it is time to move from a selfish and destructive economy to a green and clean one. Capitalists will still be able to make profits, but the way forward is to direct their efforts into projects and systems that will not only make them money but also enhance our planet instead of destroying it. I personally believe the role of government is not to be run like a business but to provide stability and health to the people and places that support us. It is nice to know that there are a lot of smart people who agree. Robert De Niro and 200 Others Sign Letter Saying “No to a Return to Normal”. A group of 200 international celebrities, including Joaquin Phoenix, Iggy Pop, Madonna, Cate Blanchett, Penélope Cruz, Adam Driver, Robert De Niro and dozens of other actors, singers, and Nobel Prize winners, and other influential personalities all expressed their desire that we reconsider our “new normal” to be more thoughtful, less consumer-driven and healthier. Basically support for a green new deal, similar to what Europe is doing.
Music to my ears, but it begs the question; why do we have to wait for celebrities to make it cool? We need to spread the news and force policymakers to take notice. Be vocal and tell others what you think. Right now, in 2020, we have a unique opportunity to change the world and make it a healthier place for all. I personally think we will look back on this time as the beginning of the start of a new, cleaner, healthier planet.
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