Well, that was a long 4 years! It is now time for healing, recovery, and reconciliation. I hope you all rest well and enjoy the Happy Eco News Top 5 for this week.
Guest Blog Post by Victoria Campbell
In the lush landscape of the Pacific Northwest, many respect nature while others seek to destroy it. Trees stand tall against the rushing waterfalls as chainsaws brattle in the distance. Terra, an environmental activist, mourns as she witnesses Don’s handiwork ravaging the woods. Ash, with the help of the Elements of Water, Wind, and Fire, seeks purpose, to pave a path outside of his father’s logging empire. TREESON is a love story between humanity and Earth. Will everyone play their part before it’s too late?
This is a question that weighs heavily on my mind. And it’s this question that inspired me to write TREESON, an eco-musical.
TREESON is a passion project that was born out of the culmination of three things happening at once: being an unemployed expat in a foreign country, the Covid-19 pandemic forcing me into lockdown, and me missing home… [read more]
The Happy Eco News – Weekly Top 5:
Green Hydrogen is what some people would say is almost the perfect fuel. When used as fuel in transportation, it emits no carbon and is now able to be produced using renewable energy to electrolyze water separating the H2O molecules. The hydrogen is used to power the vehicle and oxygen is the only byproduct. As such, it is of intense interest in the transportation sector as an alternative to fossil fuels. It is able to power everything from automobiles to commercial aircraft, to yachts, and large, ocean-going containerships, unfortunately, we do not yet have a big enough supply of hydrogen to significantly lower the cost and become widely available.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, human-made plastic is pretty much found everywhere. As a waste product, it is almost valueless and pollutes natural environments, municipal waste systems, and even the food chain. Since the first experiments and discoveries of different plastic compounds in the mid-1800s, the growth of the industry has been exponential and hugely profitable. However, the waste plastic that pollutes our environment has never really been addressed by industry or by lawmakers. By some estimates, only 10% of all the plastic ever produced has been recycled. In the top Happy Eco News story this week, scientists have developed a new process for turning mixed waste plastic into valuable hydrogen fuel. By mixing the ground plastic with a catalyst of iron oxide and aluminum oxide and then microwaving it, the scientists produced hydrogen. The newly discovered process is far less energy-intensive than previous attempts that have worked, but consumed far too much energy to ever be economically viable. The catalyst heats up before the plastic allows less microwave energy (electricity) to be used to transform the mixture into hydrogen. The only residue is carbon nanotubes, a highly valuable product in its own right that may be used in a variety of electronic components and industrial processes.
Why it’s important: We have all seen the photos of beaches covered in plastic, or the videos of dump trucks pouring tons of plastic into rivers, images of landfills choked with plastic, of plastic bags blown into trees adjacent to roadways. We also know that as it breaks down, it migrates through the food chain, killing fish, birds, sea mammals, and turtles just to name a few. As it breaks down further into microplastic particles, it is widely disbursed. Microplastic is even found in rain in the atmosphere. These minuscule particles are now found everywhere on earth, from the highest mountains to the table salt we eat. Chemicals from plastic are even found in human breast milk. It is a very big problem and cannot be understated.
At the same time as this overwhelming problem is becoming apparent, the energy industry is struggling to clean up its act in terms of carbon reduction. Imagine a cheap, readily available, clean source of hydrogen fuel to power the world’s infrastructure. The source of which will encourage people to capture the plastic before it enters the waste stream and will further encourage them to collect plastic from the environment, as it will now have a value. Imagine future generations of entrepreneurs mining historic garbage dumps and landfills for the plastic that now will power the new carbon-free economy.
A recent report of a scientific study of the world’s peat bogs shows how beneficial they are for the sequestration of carbon. In the study, the researchers found that peat bogs, if protected and kept intact, could help the world meet international climate goals, such as those agreed upon by the 2015 Paris accord. In order to help in this way, the bogs must be kept wet – they cannot be drained to reclaim land for agriculture or to be mined for the peat. If allowed to dry out, the bogs begin to slowly release carbon instead of storing it, and they become susceptible to wildfire. If a fire is introduced, dry bogs may burn uncontrollably for long periods of time and release their stored carbon quickly. When kept intact they are an extremlely important ecosystem for carbon sequestration but also for wild species that are often only found in peat bogs.
Why it’s important: The the role peat bogs have to play in the sequestration of carbon was not widely known until now. With a scientific audit of peat bogs around the world, we can set a baseline for their protection. As we enter the post fossil-fuel age, elimination of carbon emissions is critical, but it is only the beginning. We must remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the ground. Climate leaders now understand that the key to avoiding the worst consequences of decades of inaction is drawdown; the capture and storage of atmospheric carbon. Carbon itself is a naturally occurring element. We are made of carbon and it is an essential part of life on the planet we inhabit. Carbon itself is not good or evil and truly cannot be blamed or vilified. The problem is how carbon is distributed. The ecology of our planet evolved with carbon being absorbed and captured by trees and other plants, then stored in soil and peat bogs. Then the humans came along. Humans invented industrial and economic models that historically placed a higher value on money than a healthy planet; if there is monetary profit to be made, there is no reason not to exploit any natural occurring resource. But times are changing, and the true value of a tree, forest, healthy ocean, or peat bog is now being realized – they are essential in order for our species to live and thrive, and they are priceless.
Studies and reports like the ones in this article are critical to establishing laws that would protect carbon sinks like peat bogs or boreal forest and economic policies that would encourage business to protect rather than exploit nature.
Clean businesses and the assets they own are a rapidly growing sector for large scale investment. The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance (ZAOA) includes thirty of the world’s largest investors. Together, these pension funds and other large, powerful entities (like the Church of England) control $5 trillion in assets. Together, they have pledged to cut the greenhouse gas emissions of their portfolios by as much as 29 percent, in just five years. These investors have traditionally focussed on ROI for their funds with only basic governance regarding the avoidance of investments in unethical companies that involve exploitive labour or other illegal activities. Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in investors voicing concern, and demanding action on climate change. These voices span the range of levels of influence of investors; the value of their portfolios, the demands of their own members, and international and governmental regulations all play a part.
Why it’s important: Maybe I’m a bit of a cynic about international finance, but while the investment houses and pension funds that make up ZAOA are now beginning to do the right thing, it is not likely to be entirely from the goodness of their hearts. A fund manager’s primary goal is to make money, full stop. They have one job; to increase the value of their owner’s assets. Do it well, be rewarded greatly, do it poorly, and you will be replaced. It is pretty black and white and anything else is secondary. As a rule, they must be impartial and cannot be philanthropic or activist for fear of discrediting the appearance of impartiality. While a green investment makes for a nice, feel-good story for the shareholders, the fact that these funds are divesting from carbon-intense industries now, is because the writing is on the wall. Investments in fossil fuel or carbon producing industries will simply not be as profitable as other types. The pledge is to reduce carbon from their portfolios by 29% in 5 years, but this just the beginning. There is still another 71% to go. The race to position investment funds to benefit from the new carbon-free economy has begun. I believe it will only increase, and that ultimately it will benefit us all.
In a similar story to the article in number 2 position this week, scientists from the Americas, Australia, and Europe identified many locations around the world where rewilding natural areas would help mitigate the worst of climate change. This proposed rewilding is said to go a long way toward preventing the global increase of 1.5 degrees outlined in the Paris climate agreement. Not only does rewilding capture carbon, but it also helps local wildlife, and could protect up to 70% of the threatened species that have been identified with extinction risk – if current trends don’t change. There are a variety of locations that are suitable, from tropical forests to coastal wetlands and upland peat bogs. Many of these areas are in developing countries that will benefit the greatest from replanting of indigenous food-bearing plants, but there were viable and strong contenders on every continent and region.
Why it’s important: For some reason, humans have become so dependent upon technology to solve problems that we often ignore the simplest solutions. In our health, we have epidemic levels of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, yet we continue to partake in the activities that are killing us. We hope for a cure provided by science or technology, rather than make lifestyle changes that will prevent or reverse the effects. We build our homes on floodplains then dyke the rivers, trying to contain the thing that created the floodplain in the first place. When if we left them covered in natural vegetation it would prevent flooding and erosion.
With our looming atmospheric and ocean carbon problem, will we look to industry to create machines to remove the carbon or will we take a more holistic approach? As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure… Currently, there are millions, probably hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to develop technology to capture atmospheric carbon so that entrepreneurs can profit from the very problem that was created by industry! The irony is that the answer already exists. It is available everywhere, it is free or has a very low cost to deploy, has the potential to feed people, raise the poor out of poverty, protect the soil, provide habitat for wild animals, and best of all, it is guaranteed to work.
This technology is called planting trees, and it is very good news that there is now some scientific evidence to show that re-wilding is just as effective, and in many cases better than simply planting a huge monoculture of one species.
Superconductors are an electrically conductive material that is able to transmit electrical energy at great rates, with little to no losses, immensely increasing the efficiency of circuits made from them. Unfortunately, until recently they were only available in materials that were also supercooled – typically to temperatures on the order of -234C (-389F). Even so-called high-temperature superconductors only work their magic below -143C (-225.7F).
Researchers from the University of Rochester, in New York State, have developed a new superconducting material that operates at room temperature. While it is still in the research phase, the product shows great promise but requires a high atmospheric pressure environment to be used. Research is ongoing and there is great hope for a version to be available for widespread use soon.
Why it’s important: The repercussions are staggering. Up to 5% of all electricity transmitted in the world is lost to electrical resistance in transmission lines. Lithium batteries and solar panels also would benefit from superconducting materials and would now be able to have longer lifespans, greater energy density, and higher power levels than ever before. Electric motors, computer processors, and virtually every product that requires electrical circuits would benefit from this technology, ultimately increasing the effectiveness of all these devices and reducing the demand for power generation, thus reducing the amount of carbon released in the process.
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