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G7 – Please Save Our Seas!

by John Brian Shannon

Can the G7 Solve the Problem of Too Much Plastic in Our Oceans?

In the time it takes for G7 leaders to meet at the picturesque Charlevoix, Quebec location for their annual summit which lasts 28 hours, some 22,000 tonnes of plastic will have been dumped into the world’s oceans.

Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the sea. That’s equal to one garbage truck full of plastic every minute, 24/7/365.

And it’s piling up in great floating plastic islands that are found in every ocean on the planet, it’s piling up on the world’s beaches, and it’s sometimes ingested by fish and other aquatic life which sometimes kills them or causes them medical distress.

This problem didn’t suddenly appear. Since plastic was invented in 1907, billions of tonnes of the stuff has wound up in rivers, lakes, oceans, and the world’s land-based garbage dumps.

Nor will this problem disappear anytime soon as some kinds of plastic can exist in nature for 400-years.


OUR GENERATION… MUST PUT IT RIGHT.

NO ONE ELSE IS GOING TO DO IT FOR US.

WE’RE ALONE WITH THE MONSTER YOU AND ME CREATED.


 


SOLUTION #1

Stop putting so much plastic in the ocean!

It’s easy to switch to biodegradable plastics for everything from drinking straws and cutlery, to plates and coffee cups, instead of continuing to use the millions of tons of plastic equivalents every day.

“An Indian startup called Bakeys has come up with an edible alternative.

Their brand of edible spoons, knives and chopsticks are baked rather than manufactured, and even come in a number of different flavours including celery, black pepper and cumin. If you don’t like the taste, then the cutlery will safely biodegrade in just five days. The company launched a kickstarter campaign which raised over $250,000, well above the initial target of $20,000. They have now invested in a new production line and shipped over 3 million items. The founder believes that with scale, the edible spoon will soon cost the same as the plastic alternative. “So now the cutlery is tasty, fun, nutritious and environmentally friendly,” said the founder Narayana Peesapahty.” — World Economic Forum

If we stop putting so much plastic waste into the ocean we might actually be able to get ahead of the problem and solve it.

It’s not only plastic dinnerware that can be made biodegradable, packaging materials, bedding, and many other products can be manufactured using materials that break down in the environment, such as the ubiquitous shopping bags which are a menace to sea life.

Click on this link to get up-to-speed on the different kinds of environmentally friendly shopping bags.

Check here if you want to purchase biodegradable and compostable shopping bags made from corn cellulose.

As half of all plastic in the world’s oceans are fast-food and shopping-bag related, if we switch to biodegradable or compostable equivalents we will have solved HALF THE PROBLEM regarding future plastic waste.

It’s clearly a G7 and developed-nation problem!


SOLUTION #2

Scoop it up, crush it, and incinerate it!

As most of the plastic in the global ocean floats on top of the surface or within 25 feet of the surface, it’s reasonable that purpose-built machines could scoop up the plastic, crush it, and package it in tight bundles.

Once a ship has been filled with waste plastic, a number of things can be done with it.

The most efficient modality is to incinerate it at high temperature (800 celsius) to completely break the plastic down into its constituent atoms — which is the scientific way of saying that the exhaust plume will be non-toxic.

Some CO2 will be produced during incineration. But toxic gases? Barely measurable even by the most modern and sophisticated equipment.

Many advanced incinerators burn trash at 800C to produce many MegaWatts of electricity.

In Sweden, it’s the law that all trash that can’t be recycled must be incinerated — and citizens and companies can face steep fines for not turning-in their non-recyclable trash for incineration.

The recycling programme in Sweden also offers offbeat TV commercials to remind people to recycle and conserve.

On Swedish TV, sandwiched between other commercials, the Pantamera videos try to encourage people to return used bottles and cans to grocery stores – ‘panta mera’ means ‘recycle more’.

Sweden’s Pantamera programme saves millions of tonnes of trash from ending up in landfills and it saves the Swedish government millions of Krona per year. The bonus is that Swedes have a reliable supply of cheap renewable electricity as evermore European countries export their waste to Sweden.


The Job of Every G7 Leader: Turning ‘Problems’ into Opportunities

If G7 governments portray waste and plastic in the oceans as an onerous and unsolvable problem, that’s how their citizens will view the problem.

But as we see in Sweden, by showing leadership and making it fun for citizens to participate in solving the trash problem, waste in Sweden and the related problem of plastic in Swedish coastal waters have been completely eliminated — at a profit.

In fact, the Swedes over-achieved so well in regards to handling their ‘trash problem’ there’s only one ‘problem’ left to solve…

Sweden needs even more trash from European countries, because incinerating it is a cheap and clean way to produce electricity. Which is a nice ‘problem’ to have!

By any standard, the Swedish ‘Waste-to-Energy’ example is a ‘Win-Win-Win’ and that’s how G7 leaders should approach their similar and dissimilar problems.

If little Sweden (population 10 million) can achieve all that in only a few years time, imagine what the combined power of the G7 nations could accomplish should they turn their attention to the ‘problem‘ of plastic in the world’s oceans!


Can We Afford Another Round of Climate Failure?

by John Brian Shannon | November 9, 2015

Climate scientists say we must decide (at COP 21) to dramatically lower our CO2 emissions or we lose our last opportunity to stop global warming at a scale never before seen.

How many climate scientists?

A majority of climate papers agree that global warming is real and a looming concern for planet Earth. Image courtesy of James Powell

A majority of climate papers agree that global warming is a looming concern for everyone on planet Earth. Image courtesy of JamesPowell.org

Houston, we have a problem

The question, “Is there any doubt that global warming could threaten plant and animal life on the planet?” no longer seems relevant due to the astounding amount of quality research done in recent years which proves we do, in fact, have a problem.

One wonders about the other question, “Are our politicians up to the task?”

Don’t lose hope! There are some inspiring examples of environmental stewardship in the world

100% Now: Albania, Bhutan, Belize, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iceland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nepal, Norway, Paraguay, Tokelau, and Zambia, are countries that produce virtually 100% of their primary energy generation (electricity) via renewable energy, while Samoa will hit that standard by 2017. (All of these countries produce a minimum of 95% of their electricity via renewable energy, and all of them have plans to meet their 100% target within a few years. As always, easy access to low-interest financing is one way to enable those targets to be met by 2020)

See: List of countries by electricity production from renewable sources (Wikipedia)

100% by 2021: Costa Rica will hit its renewable energy target by the end of 2021. At present the Costa Rican electricity grid is powered by 94% renewable energy, but many days of the year renewable energy production exceeds 100% of demand allowing the country to export surplus electricity.

100% by 2030: Denmark and Scotland and are well on their way to hit 100% clean electricity generation by 2030 — while the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, and Kiribati in the South Pacific expect to become 100% clean energy powered by 2050 including all transportation.

90% Now: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Laos all produce more than 90% of their electricity via renewable energy and have ambitious plans to increase those targets. Limited funding is a factor.

80% Now: Canada produces over 80% of its primary generation from renewable energy (hydro-electric dams and nuclear power stations, with assorted minor solar power and wind power installations) but has, so far, has no plan to convert the remaining 20% of its electricity generation to clean energy.

80% by 2025: Nicaragua has an aggressive renewable energy program to replace its primarily fossil fueled primary energy (electricity) with renewable energy. The country is blessed with radiant sunshine, healthy wind resources and volcanoes (geothermal) all it lacks is the financing to accelerate its planned targets.

80% by 2050: Germany, an advanced country of 82 million people gets almost 40% of its annual electricity from wind, solar and biomass power and has an ambitious two-track programme underway called Energiewende that is simultaneously a) shutting down all of Germany’s nuclear power stations by 2022 (completely decommissioning them by 2045) and b) replacing that lost power generation with wind, solar, and biomass power.

By 2050 Germany expects to meet 80% of its electricity via renewable energy, and further plans to curtail energy use by 25% due to additional energy efficiency. The scale and speed of transition to clean energy in Germany is astonishing and enjoys broad support among the public.

See: German Renewable Energy Leaves Coal Behind (JBSNews)

20% by 2020: In the United States, primary energy (power plants that produce electricity or district heating, or both) are the single largest source of CO2 pollution.

Excessive carbon pollution is a contributor to climate change. Primary energy (power plants that produce electricity or district heating, or both) are the single largest source of CO2 pollution in the United States.

Excessive carbon pollution is a contributor to climate change. Primary energy (power plants that produce electricity or district heating, or both) are the single largest source of CO2 pollution in the United States.

Although a slow starter, the United States has made rapid advances toward a cleaner energy grid. Early legislation such as the Clean Air Act (1970, amended 1990) has now been joined by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

See: How the Clean Air Act Has Saved $22 Trillion in Health-Care Costs (The Atlantic)

It’s notable that the U.S. now spends more than any country in the world on its transition to clean energy and is quickly switching out of coal (good) to natural gas (better) and renewable energy (best).

Climate and Carbon: Renewable energy as a proportion of the total U.S. electricity demand (2015)

Climate and Carbon: Renewable energy as a proportion of total U.S. electricity demand (2015) Image courtesy of IER

China has the second-highest spend on renewable energy globally and breaks global solar and wind power installation records every year. By a wide margin.

And yet, all of it together isn’t nearly enough to lower our present carbon emissions to a safe level

Not even close, as the carbon bender we’ve been on since 1988 is mind-numbing.

“By the end of this year, more than half of all industrial emissions of carbon dioxide since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution will have been released since 1988 — the year it became widely known that these emissions are warming the climate.”

“The Global Carbon Project (GCP) estimates that in 2014, we will release a record 37 gigatons (GT) of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from burning coal, oil, and natural gas, and manufacturing cement. That’s a 2.5 percent increase over emissions in 2013, itself a record year.”

“This brings the total industrial carbon dioxide emissions since 1751 to an estimated 1480 Gt by the end of this year. And, remarkably, more than half of these emissions, 743 Gt, or 50.2 percent, have released just since 1988.” — , Director of science & policy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Climate and Carbon. More than half of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions have been released since 1988. Image: Union of Concerned Scientists

Climate and Carbon. More than half of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions have been released since 1988. Image: Union of Concerned Scientists

See: Global Warming Fact: More than Half of All Industrial CO2 Pollution Has Been Emitted Since 1988 (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Convinced?

Most people are. Some 80% of North Americans want stronger government and corporate action towards cleaner energy, more efficient buildings and electric vehicles. Which is great.

But in 2014, some $548 billion dollars of subsidies were paid to the world’s fossil fuel corporations. And they’re in no mood to give it up.

Why would they?

Ever since large-scale coal, oil and gas extraction began around 1920, fossil fuels have been getting massive subsidies relative to their imprint on the economy.

If the plan at COP 21 is to remove those subsidies from the fossil fuel companies, then there is no point in anybody showing up there. At all. Because as far as plans go, that must surely be voted; “Least likely plan to succeed since there were rocks.”

If the plan is to legislate ever stricter air quality standards (to the point where it has any real effect on total global emissions) get ready to pay even more subsidies — perhaps double.

Yet, if that’s the plan, we might be wise to support it as we don’t have a second Earth to fall back on.

A more effective plan would be to leave fossil fuel subsidies at their present level and begin to match renewable energy subsidies to the fossil fuel subsidy rate, based on the barrel of oil equivalent (BOe) standard and let the market work on a level-playing-field basis

In that way ‘fossil fuel companies’ would morph into ‘energy companies’ — instead of remaining coal-only, oil-only, or natural gas-only companies.

Stand back and watch the CO2 emissions fall through the floor if that ever happens!

Standardizing renewable energy subsidies to match coal, oil and natural gas subsidies, means that real and profound change would begin to take place throughout our energy sector.

It should be pointed out that a very good case could still be made for keeping natural gas alive and thriving (with no change to existing subsidies) to fuel the transportation sector.

See: Energy Darwinism – The Case for a Level Playing Field (JBS News)

Climate and Carbon. Global fossil fuel subsidies vs. global renewable energy subsidies (2014)

Climate and Carbon. Global fossil fuel subsidies vs. global renewable energy subsidies (2014)

Because of the (over-hyped) variability of renewable energy (the Sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow) a massive shift towards natural gas (hundreds of times cleaner than coal, BTW) or battery storage will be needed to balance electrical demand. Perhaps both.

Natural gas (CNG) cars and trucks are affordable right now and can use the present distribution system as gasoline and diesel vehicles, while battery technology approaches the point of affordable battery systems for cars and trucks.

See: Clean Energy: Renewables & Natural Gas Powered Electricity Grids (JBS News)

Although there is reason for hope at COP 21 in December, the few examples above represent only a handful of nations acting on the scientific warnings about global warming

There are almost 200 nations that must become convinced of the need to act on climate change this December, and many of them will be negatively affected by sea level rise, desertification, drought/heat waves, premature deaths caused by air and water pollution (China 410,000 per year, the U.S. over 200,000 per year, and Europe over 400,000 per year).

See: Air Pollution Costs the West Almost $1 Trillion/yr (JBSNews)

Now that we have broad and deep consensus by climate scientists that global warming represents an existential threat to our planet, all that is required is the will to act.

Let’s hope our politicians are bigger than the looming environmental maelstrom our civilization faces.

Climate and Carbon: Rooftop solar installation in Standard, CA the birthplace of California's oil industry. See? There is reason for optimism!

Climate and Carbon: Rooftop solar installation in Standard, California — the birthplace of California’s oil industry! See? There is reason for optimism.

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How Canada Could Excel at COP 21

by John Brian Shannon | November 8, 2015

Canada could contribute to the COP 21 success story with a straightforward move towards cleaner and renewable energy

Canada could contribute to a COP 21 success with a move towards renewable energy and hit a home-run in the process. File photo: COP 21 logo

Canada could contribute to a COP 21 success with a move towards renewable energy and hit a home-run in the process. File photo: COP 21 Paris logo

As a country that already sources 80% of its electricity demand from clean or renewable energy (mostly via hydro-electric power and nuclear power) it would be slam-dunk-simple to convert the remaining 20% of the country’s national electricity grid to a combination of cleaner and renewable energy over a period of 10 years.

If the promising and newly-elected government of Canada — headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and assisted by Natural Resources Minister James Carr, and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna — followed the plan presented below, Canada could hit an easy home-run on the climate change file.

Remember, Canada already produces 80% of its electricity via clean or renewable energy. It only needs to succeed on cleaning up the remaining 20% of its power generation. Slam. Dunk. Simple.

  1. SLAM. Write legislation to ban the burning of coal within Canada by 2020.
    BAM! We win. Canada is a renewable energy superstar and the talk of COP 21.

    Canada can simply export that much more coal.
  2. DUNK. Of course, the country can’t do without that 20% of primary power generation — most of which is coal-fired. Therefore, those coal-fired power plants must convert to natural gas by 2020.
    This has been done by many utility companies in the U.S. and is a mature and thriving industry.
    And whatever coal plants are too decrepit to convert to natural gas; Decommission them as part of the national energy infrastructure spending programme and replace them with true Hybrid power plants — where solar, wind, biomass and natural gas-fired electricity generators combine their various strengths to provide the same or more electricity than the decommissioned coal power plants they replace.
  3. SIMPLE. Direct the national energy infrastructure spending towards the goal of complete Canadian energy security, creating many construction and permanent jobs here in Canada.
    We accomplish this by building the Energy East pipeline — but with a change-up to twin pipes.

FYI — Canada’s crude oil has always been mixed with Saudi #2 (sweet) or Saudi #3 (semi-sweet) or Texas #3 (semi-sweet, a.k.a. Texas Intermediate) crude oil, in order to be clean enough to pass through the oil refinery without damaging the equipment.
Canadian crude oil barely registers #4 (sour) and is so corrosive that refineries refuse to refine it unless it is first diluted with liberal amounts of Saudi or Texas crude oil.
We need a twin-pipe system; One pipe to distribute the #2 or #3 crude oil (for dilution purposes) and the other pipe to carry our #4 crude oil to the refineries.
The Energy East pipeline should traverse all of the provinces and continue west into northeastern British Columbia, terminating in Yukon.

Why? To make Canada 100% energy self-sufficient.

As part of the national energy infrastructure spending programme, we should tender the construction of one oil refinery in each Canadian province appropriately-sized to the needs of that particular province with an additional 25% capacity built-in from day one.
That additional capacity helps to defray the cost of such refineries (via surplus finished oil product exports) and further, provides additional refining capacity in later years as Canada’s energy demand increases.
Like the huge water desalination plants in the Middle East, oil refineries require monstrous amounts of electricity to power them. Which is why we need Hybrid power plant installations near such refineries as part of our national energy infrastructure programme.

In the 21st century, it’s no longer all about being oil (only) or gas (only) energy companies or raw resource exporters. It’s all about being energy companies — that is, companies that meet the energy demand of their customers with many types of energy.

Some would say more appropriate energy.

What are the benefits?

Canada would hit an easy home-run in Paris at COP 21.

Canada would be seen as an important partner at COP 21, as one of the countries helping to drive momentum towards a cleaner global energy paradigm. (After COP 21, countries are going to be treated as ‘Part of the Solution’ or ‘Part of the Problem’ depending upon their contribution or lack thereof, to combat climate change and help improve air quality in cities)

The country would easily surpass the Kyoto clean air standards that it failed to meet by opting-out of that agreement. ‘Shamefully failed to meet’ it must be said.

It would create 100% energy self-sufficiency for Canada (yes, we would still need to buy sweet Saudi or Texas crude oil to mix with our incredibly sour crude oil, but we would then export more refined oil product to other countries than we would buy) and thereby stabilize our transportation energy market in a massive way.

Thousands of construction jobs would be created to build the (twin pipe) Energy East pipeline, to build each provincial oil refinery, and to ramp-up the distribution network in Canada to deliver the domestically produced end products of our crude oil.

Canada would ‘value add’ to the energy it extracts from the ground and instead of being the historical ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ that we’ve always been, we could be energy independent while improving the domestic supply chain and the even more important value chain. Value added resource extraction. Now there’s a thought!

It’s so obvious that Canada should do this and it already has such huge support across the country, that even if gasoline were to cost 1% more at the pumps (for example) Canadians of all political stripes would flock to support it.

And the time to do it is now. If a Republican president is elected in the U.S.A. in 2016, the new president could conceivably ‘pull out all the stops’ to prevent Canada’s energy independence from occurring before it ever gets started.

If Canada is a ‘real country’ then we need to act boldly and cut the energy apron strings from Momma America. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the Americans. But Canada must do what’s best for Canada and not be found to be working for a tiny number of (1%’er) Republicans in the United States)

It is time for Canada to step up to meet the challenges of our time, as previous Canadian leaders have met the challenges of their time. And this one should be an easy slam-dunk for Canada. All it takes, is the will to act.

The question is; “Does Canada have the right Prime Minister, the right Natural Resources Minister, and the right Environment and Climate Change Minister to make this a reality?”

My own sense is that the Trudeau government is ‘bigger’ than the problems Canada faces.

We’ll know by December 12, 2015. Talk to you then…