The Happy Eco News Weekly Top 5:
Things are changing. The status quo has been unchallenged for so long that it sometimes seems like we are paralyzed, unable to make the moves required to save our species. But when a large think tank, one comprised of some of the largest oil companies in the world, concludes from their own report that the world can and should fully transition to electrical power across all industries, people take notice. When these same oil companies add that it would likely cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year globally, another question arises: Why not proceed? Many who oppose clean energy transition cite the cost of the transition as enough reason to delay. Instead, they say, we should maintain the existing way of doing business, and invest in carbon recapture, thereby avoiding the supposed economic fallout of a transition.
At face value, this makes sense. However, $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year is really not that much money in a global economy. There is really no reason not to fully transition, especially when you consider the cost to society if we do nothing. Those who oppose a transition are the same groups who benefit the most from the status quo – mostly carbon-intense industries. They would spend huge budgets trying to discredit science, sway politicians, and sow debate rather than make the transition early. There is little doubt that they all will eventually have to make the change, but change is scary.
Change is scary, especially when you are talking to people who have spent their entire adult lives working in a specific industry. People with carefully crafted careers focussed in the blue-chip companies of old would instead have to take risks as opposed to “playing it safe”. The truth is, companies like BP, Shell, and Ørsted, all have decided to try to take first-mover advantage. They see the writing on the wall and are making the moves to position themselves as the leaders in the nascent carbon-free economy.
It will likely pay off big, and soon.
When people think of clean or renewable energy, they likely think of solar panels and wind turbines. Others, like hydroelectricity, tidal energy, wave power, or even kinetic movement of trees, are possible but are either hugely expensive or are still in experimental stages. A new type of wind power is not only possible but is also showing great promise and several startups are leading the way. An energy kite is simply a kite similar to a child’s toy that pulls against a tether. The tether is attached to an electrical generator and as it pulls, it generates electricity. While it is unlikely that they will ever replace large offshore wind farms, an energy kite has several advantages over traditional wind turbines; they are cheap, easy to deploy, have a small environmental footprint (in manufacturing and in installation), and have the ability to get to higher altitudes where the wind is strongest and most consistent. A wind kite may be able to provide consistent power to small remote communities in locations far from an existing electricity grid and are a far better way of generating electricity than burning carbon-based fuel to provide power to these villages.
What do Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook all have in common (besides being hugely valuable and powerful technology companies)? They have all pledged and are actively moving toward carbon neutrality. This is no small feat; the companies have hundreds of thousands of employees working at facilities and data centers around the world. Their energy demands are huge. Apple and Microsoft made their announcements years ago; Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Facebook are the newcomers to the scene. Google has made the biggest strides, recently announcing that they had already reduced or offset enough carbon to bring their carbon footprint to zero. Not just current operations, their carbon neutrality now dates back to the company’s founding in 1996 and they could now be considered to have a new zero carbon impact. Facebook however, has far less ambitious goals with its plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, in line with the 2015 COP21 Paris agreements. While it is interesting to see these companies taking bold action, the fact is that climate denial and anti-science rhetoric still resides on many social media platforms like Facebook. It makes one wonder how serious they really are.
There is little doubt that the natural world is under near-constant attack by humans. Species loss is at an all-time high and appears to be accelerating. Are we experiencing a modern-day, human-caused extinction event? Some say so. However, there are many people working diligently to save threatened populations of animals, and many are having success. A variety of species, ranging from birds to mammals, in areas from Amazon jungles to plains in Mongolia have been saved. Estimates are that up to 48 different species that were at risk of being lost completely have been protected and now have viable populations. An interesting new program enacted earlier this year attempts to reduce species loss by documenting the rate that species are being lost and then setting binding agreements to ensure that governments are actually working to save them. Too often there is no political pressure to save a species because the only pressure on a government is from industry within their borders. With international scrutiny, these same politicians will have a greater incentive to do the right thing.
A detached home surrounded by a beautiful, manicured green lawn. Not a weed in sight. This was long considered the picture of middle-income success in North America. Maybe a person would even invest in a a ride-on mower if their lawn was big enough. However, that indicator of so-called success is now being challenged. A big green lawn was not always the norm though. During the second world war, victory gardens were promoted as a way for people to aid the war effort from home. Homeowners would plant gardens for their own needs, freeing up commercial crops to feed the soldiers overseas. By 1944 it is estimated that the USA alone had 20 million victory gardens and 40% of the food produced in the US came from them.
During the pandemic of 2020, interest in the home cultivation of food crops saw a huge resurgence. Local gardening stores sold out of seeds and supplies, and online gardening stores had banner sales growth. We intuitively understand that food security is extremely important for our own survival, but most people do not consider the benefit to the environment of home grown food. Instead of using chemical lawn fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides, you can use homemade organic compost for your veggies. Instead of a huge lawn requiring a gasoline-powered lawnmower and bagging the clippings for pickup by the trash man, you simply till the soil, plant some seeds, remove a few weeds, compost them, and get a great workout. If you go a little farther and plant a permaculture garden the benefits are even greater. Fruit trees provide shelter, veggies and flowers provide ground cover, quail, or chickens for pest control, and the entire thing pretty much takes care of itself. A family who grows 50% of their vegetables can reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by up to 11%, almost all of it from a reduction in fossil fuel combustion, and best of all, homegrown veggies contain more nutrients than commercially grown, store-bought varieties.
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