Welcome to the next CKM newsletter. I have included quite a wide range of items this time with an initial focus on a big question facing humanity. What are the limits to growth for humanity and how close are we to reaching some of those limits?
1) Are there biophysical limits to growth? If so, how should public policy respond?Lesley and I recently sat in on a webinar organised by Victoria University School of Government and the Wise Response Society. The webinar was addressing the following question - Economic growth has become culturally, politically and institutionally engrained at a global scale. Is that sustainable?
The four international speakers who did the presentations were -
The youtube video is available here -
The following comments from the first speaker Simon Michaux will give you a feel for the topic.
Current industrialization has a foundation in the continuous supply of natural resources. The methods and processes associated with this foundation have significant momentum. This paradigm will not be undone easily. Human nature and human history make it so. Currently, our industrial systems are absolutely dependent on non-renewable natural resources for energy sources.
Current thinking is that all industrial businesses, will replace a complex industrial ecosystem that took more than a century to build. This system was built with the support of the highest calorifically dense source of energy the world has ever known (oil), in cheap abundant quantities, with easily available credit, and unlimited mineral resources. This task is hoped to be done at a time when there is comparatively very expensive energy, a fragile finance system saturated in debt, not enough minerals, and an unprecedented number of human populations, embedded in a deteriorating environment.
It is apparent that the goal of industrial scale transition away from fossil fuels into non-fossil fuel systems is a much larger task than current thinking allows for. The majority of infrastructure and technology units needed to phase out fossil fuels has yet to be manufactured. Recycling cannot be done on products that have yet to be manufactured. It is clear that society consumes more mineral resources each year. It is also clear that society does not really understand its dependency on minerals to function. Availability of minerals could be an issue in the future, where it becomes too expensive to extract metals due to decreasing grade.
Further info about the speakers and copies of the slides in the video are available here -
2) Rethinking Climate Change.
This recently released paper from RethinkX has a very different view on the possibilities for change in the next 10 - 20 years. The authors believe we can take a path resulting in alternative "Disruptions, Implications, and Choices" from the ones being articulated in the above "Limits to Growth" webinar so some quite major contradictions are apparent if you study both viewpoints. The underlying question of whether "Green Growth" or "Degrowth" is the more realistic path forward also arises.
I like to keep an open mind to possibilities but I have to say both viewpoints portend major ongoing disruptions to life as we know it. I firmly believe we all need to think seriously about these issues and make every effort to look at what changes and preparations for disruption we can make in our own lives and how we can encourage those in our community to do the same. We need more resilience in our families, communities, country and planet if we want to maintain a caring and supportive society on this one little life giving jewel floating in space.
This statement will give you a feel for what is contained in the RethinkX paper.
Humanity Can Choose to Reduce Emissions 90% by 2035 through the Disruption of Energy, Transportation,
and Food with Existing Technologies. Technology disruptions already underway in the energy, transportation, and food sectors have extraordinary implications for climate change. These three disruptions alone, driven by just eight technologies, can directly eliminate over 90% of net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide within 15 years. Market forces can be leveraged to drive the bulk of global GHG emissions mitigation because the technologies required are either already commercially available and competitive today, or can be deployed to market before 2025 with the right societal choices. The same technologies will also make the cost of carbon withdrawal affordable, meaning that moonshot breakthrough technologies are not required to solve the ‘Last Carbon Problem’ and go beyond net zero from 2035 onwards. Our previous research has shown that disruptions of the energy, transportation, and food sectors are inevitable. Solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) will disrupt coal, oil, and gas. Autonomous electric vehicles (A-EVs) providing transportation-as-a-service (TaaS) will disrupt internal combustion engines and private vehicle ownership. And precision fermentation and cellular agriculture (PFCA) will disrupt meat, milk, and other animal products. The three disruptions are already unfolding simultaneously, and their implications for climate change are profound. Yet it will be up to us to decide whether or not we deploy these technologies worldwide rapidly enough to avoid dangerous climate change.
Here are some useful Q&A’s on the topic of cellular production of animal products for anyone interested.
Microbial protein factories can process yeasts, bacteria, fungi and algae. It takes years to grow animals, months or years to grow plants, while microbes can double their biomass in a matter of hours. Many microorganisms offer high protein content of over 50% by dry weight. They grow extraordinarily fast, are self-sufficient and require only simple and inexpensive feedstocks.
And here is some good info available on the Prime Minister’s Science Advisor’s website on the same topic.
3) More evidence we may be reaching the Limits to Growth on Planet Earth.
A remarkable new study by a director at KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms in the world has found that a famous, decades-old warning from MIT about the risk of industrial civilization collapsing appears to be accurate based on new empirical data.
As the world looks forward to a rebound in economic growth following the devastation wrought by the pandemic, the research raises urgent questions about the risks of attempting to simply return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal.’ In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse. Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources.
Gaya Herrington, a Dutch sustainability researcher and adviser to the Club of Rome, a Swiss thinktank, has made headlines in recent days after she authored a report that appeared to show the controversial 1970s study predicting the collapse of civilization was – apparently – right on time.
Coming amid a cascade of alarming environmental events, from western US and Siberian wildfires to German floods and a report that suggests the Amazon rainforest may no longer be able to perform as a carbon sink, Herrington’s work predicted the collapse could come around 2040 if current trends held.
Research by Herrington, a rising star in efforts to place data analysis at the center of efforts to curb climate breakdown, affirmed the bleaker scenarios put forward in a landmark 1972 MIT study, The Limits to Growth, that presented various outcomes for what could happen when the growth of industrial civilization collided with finite resources.
She says there is nothing inevitable about its predictions – even now.
“The key finding of my study is that we still have a choice to align with a scenario that does not end in collapse. With innovation in business, along with new developments by governments and civil society, continuing to update the model provides another perspective on the challenges and opportunities we have to create a more sustainable world.”
“The necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges but a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible,” said Herrington.
The best available data suggests that what we decide over the next 10 years will determine the long-term fate of human civilization. Although the odds are on a knife-edge, Herrington pointed to a “rapid rise” in environmental, social and good governance priorities as a basis for optimism, signalling the change in thinking taking place in both governments and businesses. She told me that perhaps the most important implication of her research is that it’s not too late to create a truly sustainable civilization that works for all.
You can read more here and here -
The full KPMG report is available here -
4) Marlborough coal users.
Tom Powell and myself have been putting some time and energy into investigating which local businesses and public facilities are currently using coal for process heat. The government has signaled that all coal users have until 2037 to undergo conversion to other fuel sources. Woodbourne Airbase, Marlborough Hospital, Marlborough Girls College and Springlands school are currently using coal and conversion options are being investigated. The main private coal users in our region are Talleys, CMP (Anzco) meat processing plant at Riverlands, Dominion Salt and Thymebank greenhouses. Kinzett greenhouses were early adopters and converted to burn woodchip in 2009.
We recently sat in on a very interesting and informative webinar presented by DETA Consulting with the topic being "South Island Thermal Fuel Transition Impact Assessment".
DETA conducted a survey of process heat users in the South Island. The survey looked at process heat sites of greater than 500KW, which would include most industrial users but exclude small users, such as schools. Users were asked what they had installed and what plans they have to convert from fossil fuel to renewable sources. Due to the low cost and availability of coal on the South Island, most process heat is currently from coal. You can view Tom's notes on the webinar here - If you want to access the full webinar it is available here - You need to enter your email address to get access and then look for it under 2021 webinars. For anyone who is interested in this topic they have also posted a new webinar on Sep 22 titled "Decarbonising Industrial Process Heat".
5) The delay to New Zealand’s emissions reduction plan is embarrassing – we need action now.
This recent development is not good news. NZ is being seen more and more internationally as a laggard. And this is a Labour - Greens government! Why is the urgent action required taking so long to happen? Is this government too scared to stand up to the agricultural lobby and other vested interests?
The extract below is from an article written by Adam Currie from Generation Zero.
The New Zealand government has announced a five-month delay to the emissions reduction plan (ERP) – its key programme for combatting climate change. This is gutting – climate decisions by many organisations and institutions have been delayed since 2017; first to wait for the Zero Carbon Act, then the advice of the Climate Change Commission, and now the Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), which won’t be announced until the budget in May. The postponement even requires an embarrassing legislative change to the Zero Carbon Act to get around the December 2021 deadline for the plan, which is currently enshrined in law. Every day of delay makes the transition we will have to make to a low-carbon Aotearoa – and the ability to make it fair for affected communities – more and more difficult. New Zealand now won’t have any part of the emissions reduction plan to declare at the crucially important Cop26 in November (yet again – New Zealand didn’t attend the climate leaders summit last year either because we had no climate policies to announce). It will announce an updated nationally determined contribution (NDC), the emissions reduction target we pledge to the rest of the world. Concerningly, New Zealand last week decided not to do any public consultation whatsoever on the formation of the NDC. A report from Oxfam argued that when considering our historical responsibility, New Zealand’s “fair share” NDC would be a reduction of at least 99% below 1990 levels by 2030 – a far cry from the 11% reduction pledge in our current NDC.
The full article is available here -
6) Bioenergy Association.
The NZ Bionenergy Association have a regularly updated "News" page with useful items for those interested in this topic. Recent ones are on Converting Marsden Point refinery to produce Biofuels, and the New Zealand Forest Service investigating the use of forest waste for a new biofuels industry.
You can check it out here -
7) Nelson City Council challenged on new library plans.
Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand has written to Nelson City Council on behalf of Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman expressing concerns about the legality of the Council’s recent decision to develop a new Library on a site near the Maitai River.
Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman is calling on Nelson City Council to only make a final decision about the new Library location in conjunction with determining a climate change adaptation plan for central Nelson, to ensure that total costs to ratepayers are minimised. The group asks Council to ensure that any steps taken in relation to the proposed site on the corner of Halifax and Trafalgar Streets in the meantime are legally and practically reversible.
The full article is available here -
8) $3m to save a river.
This item is from December last year but I wanted to include it as an example of the benefits that can be gained from fencing and planting waterways. I'm aware those benefits can vary widely depending on soil types, but there is the potential to not only mitigate stream pollution but also remove carbon from the atmosphere.
A water quality project started by a group of farmers in Otago six years ago has received a major boost with more than $3 million of government funding available to plant 216,000 native riverbank species over the next three years.
Already the first 5000 have been put in along the banks of the Pomahaka River and its tributaries and the group overseeing the project is aiming to have 20,000 in the ground by the end of November.
Project manager Lloyd McCall says the government funding – which will also pay for 100km of riparian fencing on farms in the district – will be awarded under the Jobs for Nature initiative. He says it is a significant development and will help continue work to improve the water quality in the 2020sqkm catchment around the river. The river has suffered degradation over many years – E.coli levels and nitrate leaching into the water are among its most pressing problems - but the work of the PWCG is beginning to turn the tide and restore the river to health.
Tests in the last 12 months show the presence of E.coli has fallen by up to 90 per cent and nitrate by up to 60 per cent.
9) How to fix the Waikato peatlands.
Talking about sequestering carbon this article that was the in the NZ Geographic highlights the huge potential for bogs to store carbon. I found this article fascinating. It makes a very good case for closing drains, shutting off pumps and letting some wetlands revert to bog again.
Don’t call them swamps. Bogs soak up and store more carbon than forests do, but when they’re drained and used for agriculture, that immense amount of carbon is slowly released. The peat at Kopuatai draws down about 200 grams of carbon per square metre each year—which adds up to 18,000 tonnes across the whole bog.But this carbon-storing power applies only as long as a bog remains wet. Once it’s drained, oxygen enters the system, turning once-submerged carbon into carbon dioxide that escapes into the atmosphere. When drained peatland is farmed, fertilisers accelerate the carbon loss, turning a sink into a significant source. The Waikato’s drained peatlands produce between 10 and 33 tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions per hectare each year, depending on how the land is used. These emissions are from the peat itself as it decomposes once it’s exposed to oxygen. What happens if we continue to farm the peatlands currently used for pastoral agriculture? Waikato University wetland scientist and carbon researcher Dave Campbell says “It is equivalent to burning down all forests and not replacing them.”
10) Bernard Hickey: A solar panel for every roof.
I’m ultimately hopeful about the ability of technology to solve this planet’s problems, if only we could dislodge the network monopolies forming into roadblocks at every turn. Markets can be wonderful things, as long as they are regulated to ensure natural monopolists and their ilk don’t do what is natural to them: use their power and scale and connections to stop new competitors eating away at their super profits.
Our electricity industry is a perfect example. If we’re not careful, New Zealand’s natural headstart of having oodles of supposedly free water-powered electricity will turn into a millstone around our neck that stops us from getting anywhere near carbon zero by 2050. It’s not looking good right now. The Climate Commission assumes that car owners will opt en-masse to switch to electric vehicles, in part because it expects electricity costs to drop 30%. Right now, wholesale electricity costs have tripled in 12 months and NZ burned through one million tonnes of coal last year. Meanwhile the independent retailers keeping a lid on retail prices have all gone into their shells because the wholesale market suits the big network gentailers just fine and has burned off the little guys.
Even better, the government could do to the electricity sector what was successfully done to Telecom: break up the “generator” from the “retailer” to remove that network monopoly power. Along with targeted regulatory intervention, it has worked a treat to foster lower prices and industry innovation.
Here’s a big idea from left field. Why doesn’t the government break up the gentailers by holding on to the dams and windfarms with its 51% stakes in Mercury, Meridian and Genesis, and let the private shareholders keep the new independent retailers? The other option would be fund the capital requirements of a massive panel and battery rollout. It would work much faster than new builds and foster competition in one fell swoop.
You can see the full article here -
11) Further information highlighting the dysfunctional nature of the NZ electricity supply system.
I found this paragraph below in a recent paper by Geoff Bertram informative. The paper is titled "Problems with the “Reformed” New Zealand Electricity Market".
Electrification of the economy will be central to New Zealand’s ability to meet ambitious greenhouse-gas emission targets. Again the profit motive has proven International Association for Energy Economics counter-productive in the absence of effective regulatory policy. New Zealand’s main policy instrument to place a price on carbon emissions is its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which interacts in a strikingly perverse way with the structure of the wholesale electricity market. The market, by design, sets the spot price at the highest offer price in the generation merit-order stack, which means for most of the time one of the fossil-fuelled generators, whose costs (and hence bids) include the carbon price. Because all generators receive the same price, the effect is that electricity consumers are forced to pay carbon tax on electricity supplied from hydro and wind. But since hydro and wind generators pay no carbon tax on their operations, the resulting revenue flow goes directly to their bottom lines and asset values. The result is that the ETS which is ostensibly aimed to incentivise a move away from carbon instead creates a perverse incentive both to dampen down substitution in final energy uses away from fossil fuels towards electricity (for example, switching from internal combustion cars to electric vehicles) and for electricity generators to ensure that there is always fossil-fuelled generating plant at the market margin.
Molly Melhuish has also done a succinct paper titled “What's wrong with NZ's electricity set-up?”
Here is an extract from that paper.
Both demand reduction and local energy supply threaten the profits and asset values of the electricity corporates. The recent blackouts, and earlier market manipulation that drove high coal generation, create high profits. Government half owns the biggest generators and fully owns Transpower. Their profits benefit Government directly, creating conflict of interest which must be eliminated.
Indeed the extreme profit-driven governance of our electricity sector must be replaced with some system to confirm and promote the public interest in energy supply. There are several options, all incompatible with neoliberal philosophy and finance.
Fossil energy allowed civilization to escape the bounds of local energy supply. Demand grew exponentially, as did the waste products of energy (especially carbon dioxide), agriculture and industry. Now new local energy technologies offer truly renewable and even climate-friendly energy systems, but only at a greatly reduced scale per capita. New Zealand is in a unique position to demonstrate these to a reluctant world.
12) Seven countries join US and EU in methane reduction pledge.
I hope the NZ government has taken note of this recent commitment by some countries to cut their methane emissions. Of course we're all getting used to plenty of words but not much action so we'll have to wait and see what the actual outcome of this latest pledge is. The statement from the American Humane Society in the extract below, at least addresses the real solution to reducing methane emissions from agriculture.
Seven countries have joined the US and EU in committing to cut their methane emissions by 30% over the next decade. On Friday, the US and EU made a joint pledge to slash methane emissions, which are mainly released from abandoned coal mines, oil and gas operations, and farming, by 2030 and encouraged other nations to do the same.
Although it only stays in the atmosphere for around nine years, methane has a warming impact 84 times that of CO2 over a 20-year period. It is responsible for almost a quarter of global warming to date.
A paper in Environmental Research Letters earlier this year found an all-out effort to slash methane emissions could slow the rate of temperature rise by 30% and avoid 0.5C of warming by the end of the century.
Campaigners armed with satellite observations and infrared cameras have shown that the scale of “fugitive emissions” of methane from oil and gas installations is widely under reported. While the EU, for one, is introducing stricter standards for monitoring and reporting emissions under its methane strategy, it will take time for this to result in better data. “We have no access to accurate data and I don’t expect the world to have access to this before 2026-2030,” Kalesi said. “There is currently no consensus in terms of the baseline and measurement methods.”
In fossil fuel sectors, while the data is murky, the technological solutions are clear.
In farming, responsible for more methane emissions than coal, oil and gas industries put together, there are fewer quick fixes. “In the agriculture space, there are existing technologies and practices that can be utilized to get emission reductions, but not on the order of what can be readily cut from oil and gas as well as coal,” said Jonathan Banks of Clean Air Task Force. Biden’s agriculture department is working with farmers to improve practices on a voluntary basis, according to the White House press release. A more culturally sensitive solution is for people to eat less meat, particularly from ruminants like cattle, goats and sheep that belch methane. The Humane Society of the US argues technologies “do little to address the problems inherent in industrial animal agriculture”. “A better strategy – for the environment, climate change mitigation, human health, and animal welfare – is reducing our overall consumption of animal products and making more climate-friendly food choices,” it says.
The full article is available here -
13) Stealthy storage contender Form Energy reveals secret formula: Iron and air.
Here is more new information on evolving battery technology.
Form Energy finally lifted the veil of secrecy over its technology that purports to store clean electricity for days on end. The startup revealed that it is building iron-air batteries, a technology that has been studied for decades but never commercialized for grid storage. The announcement coincided with a profile in the Wall Street Journal and a $200 million Series D raise led by global steel and mining giant ArcelorMittal.
"We felt that we had made enough progress that it was relevant to talk about," Form CEO Mateo Jaramillo told Canary Media Thursday.
While it's common for lithium-ion batteries on the market today to discharge their full power capacity for up to four hours, Form's 1-megawatt project will do so for up to 150 hours, an unprecedented achievement for the storage industry. The “iron-air” system stores energy via “reversible rusting.” In discharge mode, the battery pulls in oxygen from the air to make the iron rusty. Running the process in reverse releases oxygen and returns the iron to its pre-rusty state, while charging the system. Form wants to store clean power and deliver it over 100 hours or more, which would constitute a whole new type of power plant. Jaramillo describes it as competing with gas plants, not batteries.
The revelation ended a period of speculation about Form, launched as a sort of energy storage supergroup in 2017. Jaramillo built Tesla's energy storage business before joining forces with MIT battery expert Yet-Ming Chiang. Along with co-founders Billy Woodford, Ted Wiley and Marco Ferrara, they systematically examined every material that stores electricity to see if it could reach very low costs for very long durations.
The full article is available here -
14) IEA:Net Zero Goal Means No More New Oil And Gas Investment Ever. The world doesn’t need any new investments in oil and gas beyond what is already approved if it hopes to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on 18th May 21, adding that the road to limiting global warming to 1.5 o C involves a rapid and radical shift away from fossil fuels.
According to the IEA’s pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, the world will not need new oil and gas projects beyond those sanctioned as of this year, the Paris-based agency said in its Net Zero by 2050 report. Instead, all new energy investments should be of the renewable variety in what the IEA refers to as an “immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies.”
The agency’s ‘Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector’ also says that no new coal mines or mine extensions are required if the world is to achieve net-zero emissions in 2050.
“The path to net-zero emissions is narrow: staying on it requires immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies,” the agency said.
The scenario with the world reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 would mean a sharp decline in demand for fossil fuels, “meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output – and emissions reductions – from the operation of existing assets,” the IEA said.
“No new oil and natural gas fields are needed in the net zero pathway, and supplies become increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers”.
“The pathway to achieving net-zero would result in coal demand collapsing by 90 percent by 2050 and natural gas demand slumping by 55 percent”, the IEA noted. Oil demand would plunge by as much as 75 percent to just 24 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2050, from around 100 million bpd in 2019.
Thanks to Energy Watch for this item.
DETA Consulting have put together a Roadmap for NZ similar to the global one from the IEA above.
DETA Consulting say on their website they are an “Award-winning engineering consultancy specialising in identifying, developing and delivering carbon reduction and sustainability projects in the dairy, meat, agricultural, hotels, hospitals, schools and public sectors. Think of us as your green superhero sidekicks,”
This roadmap sets out a series of steps for businesses to help them develop a carbon reduction plan and integrate it into their business.
15) Golden Bay Cement - Tyres in cement reduces carbon footprint of product.
Fletcher Building recently announced the completion of its tyre project at Golden Bay Cement, which will avoid up to three million used tyres going to landfill each year and instead be used in cement manufacturing. The significant upgrade to New Zealand’s only end-to-end cement plant, which is based in Portland, Whangarei, will be officially opened today by the Honourable David Parker, Minister for the Environment.
“This innovative project is a win-win-win for the environment. It reduces a significant waste problem, reuses a valuable resource, and reduces carbon emissions by about 13,000 tonnes a year,” Environment Minister David Parker said. Fletcher Building CEO Ross Taylor says this is a landmark sustainability project for manufacturing in New Zealand.
“Using end-of-life tyres in cement manufacturing helps to solve a significant waste problem in New Zealand as well as improve the sustainability of a key building material. Up to 50 percent of the 6.3 million waste tyres created in New Zealand each year will now be used in cement manufacturing at the Golden Bay Cement plant instead of going into landfill. “Golden Bay Cement supplies more than half the New Zealand market as the only local cement manufacturer. “Our cement already has around 20 percent lower emissions than imported cement and using tyres is part of the decarbonization plan to reduce its footprint even further. It will also reduce our need for natural raw materials like iron sand.
“Local manufacturing must compete fiercely with imports, and this investment allows us to continue doing just that. At the same time, we’re providing local jobs as well as supply chain security for the domestic building, infrastructure, and construction industries,” said Ross Taylor. Fletcher Building has a verified science-based target to reduce its emissions by 30 percent by 2030.Ross Taylor said, “Climate change is an urgent, global priority. The building and materials sector has an important role to play by changing the way that it designs, builds, sources, and manufactures the building materials used in the construction process. We are serious about transforming our business around sustainability to do our part in creating a sustainable future and reducing our carbon emissions.”
The full article is available here and a video of the tyre furnace being installed is available here -
16) More than 200 health journals call for urgent action on climate crisis.
More than 200 health journals worldwide are publishing an editorial calling on leaders to take emergency action on climate change and to protect health. The British Medical Journal said it is the first time so many publications have come together to make the same statement, reflecting the severity of the situation.
The editorial, which is being published before the UN general assembly and the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow this November, says: “Ahead of these pivotal meetings, we – the editors of health journals worldwide – call for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health.
“Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world, a state of affairs health professionals have been bringing attention to for decades."
“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse."
“Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with Covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions."
“Reflecting the severity of the moment, this editorial appears in health journals across the world."
“We are united in recognising that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory.”
The full article is available here -
17) The myth of government deficits.
This is an excellent Ted talk by the author of the book "The Deficit Myth - Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy" by Stephanie Kelton.
In the talk she explains clearly why the question that must be asked is not, "How will you pay for it?" but "How will you resource it?" This is the central issue with financing all the environmental challenges facing us, such as global warming, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. Most politicians will lead you to believe money is a constraining factor. Listen to this talk and you will realise that is a myth and the actual constraints are the real life resources that nature provides us, not money.
“Government deficits have gotten a bad rap”, says economist Stephanie Kelton. In this groundbreaking talk, she makes the case to stop looking at government spending as a path towards frightening piles of debt, but rather as a financial contribution to the things that matter -- like health care, education, infrastructure and beyond. "We have the resources we need to begin repairing our broken systems," Kelton says. "But we have to believe it's possible."
18) Update from "Stop Ecocide".
There has been considerable activity in different countries around the world since the first legal definition of “Ecocide” was released in June this year. Here is a statement from the “Stop Ecocide” organisation.
So much has happened since the launch of the legal definition of ecocide in June that we’ve decided to provide you with a concise “round-up” of key moments over the last 3 months. We trust this will give a flavour of the political momentum gathering around ecocide law.
Progressing this law is about more than politics. It serves to reflect, in the global legal system, a simple factual truth: when we damage the Earth, there are consequences. We see it as a legal guardrail, a health and safety law for the planet, if you will. And as the law approaches, whatever our age, work, or walk of life, we can treat it as a guidance system, supporting healthy innovation and adjustment in all sectors of industry, society and education.
We already know that profound changes are needed to bring humanity back within a safe operating space. Ecocide law provides a clear parameter to help that happen.
You can catch up on the latest stories here -
19) The semiconductor industry has a problem.
I know I continue to highlight consequences of our modern lifestyles. I believe we have a duty to keep ourselves informed of the implications of our decisions. We need to keep our heads firmly out of the sand!
Demand is booming for silicon chips, which are embedded in everything from smartphones and televisions to wind turbines, but it comes at a big cost: a huge carbon footprint.
The industry presents a paradox. Meeting global climate goals will, in part, rely on semiconductors. They’re integral to electric vehicles, solar arrays and wind turbines. But chip manufacturing also contributes to the climate crisis. It requires huge amounts of energy and water – a chip fabrication plant, or fab, can use millions of gallons of water a day – and creates hazardous waste.
The full article is available here -
20) August Temperature Update & Gas Bag Season Approaches - James Hansen.
Here is an extract from a recent blog update from James Hansen. As is usual with James he doesn’t dodge the tricky subjects. This blog addresses the inability of politicians to follow grand statements with effective actions and also the issue of whether we should be using more nuclear power to reduce fossil fuel use and therefore emissions. The full blog is available here -
First the good news: NOAA’s newest prediction for the tropics has a deeper La Nina, which should keep global temperature near the 1970-2015 trend line for at least several months. That’s not entirely good news – the trend line is not a target to aim for, and a continuing La Nina keeps the tropics ripe for tropical storms. At the next El Nino, global temperature will be far above the trend line and may approach +1.5°C relative to 1880-1920.
The bad news: we approach the gas bag season – the next Conference of the Parties (COP26) is scheduled for November 1-12. Gas bag politicians won’t show you the data that matter because that would reveal their miserable performances. Instead, they set climate goals for their children while adopting no polices that would give such goals a chance. Some of them may have been honestly duped about the science and engineering, but many must be blatant hypocrites.
21) Oxfam report highlights conflict between tree planting and food production.
Governments and businesses hoping to plant trees and restore forests in order to reach net-zero emissions must sharply limit such efforts to avoid driving up food prices in the developing world, the charity Oxfam has warned.
Planting trees has been mooted as one of the key ways of tackling the climate crisis, but the amount of land needed for such forests would be vast, and planting even a fraction of the area needed to offset global greenhouse gas emissions would encroach on the land needed for crops to feed a growing population, according to a report entitled Tightening the net: Net zero climate targets implications for land and food equity.
Nafkote Dabi, climate policy lead at Oxfam and co-author of the report, explained: “It is difficult to tell how much land would be required, as governments have not been transparent about how they plan to meet their net-zero commitments. But many countries and companies are talking about afforestation and reforestation, and the first question is: where is this land going to come from?”
The full article is available here -
22) 1 in 3 sheep and beef farms to forestry.
Beef and Lamb New Zealand is calling for limits on carbon offsetting as new research reveals over a third of sheep and beef farms sold have gone into carbon-only titles. Beef and Lamb NZ has commissioned this independent research, which shows the transition of pastureland to forestry by carbon farming companies is driven in large part by a speculated increase in the carbon price, and the amount of afforestation here has already exceeded levels recommended by the IPCC to meet the Zero Carbon Act. Instead, the report recommends an integrated approach, where parts of farms are given over to trees, as a preferable way of meeting climate change targets.Kathryn Ryan is joined by Beef and Lamb NZ's chief executive Sam McIvor.
You can listen to the full RNZ interview here -
23) Trees worth more than cows as carbon price soars.
New Zealand’s carbon price is at a record high, which means planting pine trees will now fetch farmers more money than raising sheep and beef. That’s according to an analysis from interest.co warning that the country’s farmers, as well as its timber industry, now face pressure from a surging carbon price. The result could be that productive land now used for livestock and lumber is turned over to forest plantations that suck up carbon emissions. Dairying, as well as growing fruits and vegetables, is still more profitable than trees. Carbon farming, as it’s sometimes known, isn’t a new idea, but the economics have shifted remarkably in recent years.
The country’s main mechanism for combating climate change (for now) is the emissions trading scheme and it has been acting a little odd in recent weeks. For starters, the price of carbon credits has soared. As Newsroom reports, an auction earlier this month saw the price that polluters needed to pay to buy a credit for a tonne of emissions break through an artificial ceiling set by the government. As a result of going above $50, the government tried to flood the market with new credits to keep prices down. It didn’t quite work and prices are above $60. The country will also need to figure out a way to reduce emissions in the future by 1.6 million tonnes, because those new credits need to come from somewhere.
The full article is available here -
I must admit I find the whole ETS scheme a little tricky to get my head around. This article seems to show that we are, as a country, walking a tight rope. Clearly we need to have a realistic price on carbon to deter emissions so a climbing price is a good thing. The consequences of humanity not reducing our collective emissions fast enough are well documented. But we're trying to make this change in the way we manage our emissions without collapsing our economy in the process. Either way this seems to me to be evidence that more disruptions are inevitable.
24) Rapidly increasing chance of record shattering temperature extremes.
In recent years, heat waves have broken long-standing records by large margins. In spring 2020, Siberia saw exceptional temperatures, and Europe experienced an extreme heat wave in 2003 that killed more than 70,000 people. Now a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that the probability of extreme record-shattering events is increasing at an alarming rate. These events are unprecedented in the observational record and nearly impossible without climate change. The researchers warned that many places in the world have not yet seen anything close to the intensity of heat waves now possible but should expect them in the coming decades.
As the climate warms, you would expect heat waves to break previous records, but not necessarily by large margins. But when Erich Fischer at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zürich in Switzerland and his colleagues looked at large climate model ensembles, they found that simulated events in the near future broke historic records by very large margins. Somewhat surprisingly, the simulations often did not show the intensity of heat waves steadily increasing. Instead, the simulations showed stagnant decades with unbroken or marginally broken records, followed by a sudden record-shattering event.
The full article is available here -
25) Pacific forum leaders set permanent maritime borders, as rising seas shrink islands.
Pacific island leaders have agreed that their maritime borders should be permanent, even if their countries shrink due to a future rise in sea levels caused by climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth assessment report reaffirmed this week that rising sea levels will cause shorelines to retreat along sandy coasts of most small islands, a real threat to the existence of some low lying atoll nations.
“Some think of Pacific islands as small, but Pacific states have sovereign rights across a large swathe of the Earth’s surface. This declaration helps to protect Pacific sovereignty and their rightful ocean domain,” said Morgan.
“Pacific island countries have led global diplomacy on oceans for decades. So this declaration continues to lead, and shape, the global discussion. It is an important diplomatic signal from all of the member states of the Pacific Islands Forum. They are telling the rest of the world, that they will not let their maritime sovereign rights be eroded by climate change”.
You can access the full article here -
26) Biden-backed ‘blue’ hydrogen may pollute more than coal, study finds.
The large infrastructure bill passed by the US Senate and hailed by Joe Biden as a key tool to tackle the climate crisis includes billions of dollars to support a supposedly clean fuel that is potentially even more polluting than coal, new research has found.
The $1tn infrastructure package, which passed with bipartisan support, includes $8bn to develop “clean hydrogen” via the creation of four new regional hubs. The White House has said the bill advances Biden’s climate agenda and proponents of hydrogen have touted it as a low-emissions alternative to fuel shipping, trucking, aviation and even home heating.
But a new study has found surprisingly large emissions from the production of so-called “blue” hydrogen, a variant being enthusiastically pushed by the fossil fuel industry and probably falling under the definition of clean hydrogen in the Senate bill.
Blue hydrogen involves splitting gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide and then capturing and storing the CO2 to ensure it doesn’t heat the planet. But this process involves the incidental release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and uses a huge amount of energy to separate and then store the carbon dioxide, some of which escapes anyway.
This means that the production of this hydrogen actually creates 20% more greenhouse gases than coal, commonly regarded the most polluting fossil fuel, when being burned for heat, and 60% more than burning diesel, according to the new paper, published in the Energy Science & Engineering journal.
You can read more about it here and here -
27) China pledge to stop funding coal projects ‘buys time for emissions target’.
Xi Jinping’s announcement that China will stop funding overseas coal projects could buy the world about three more months in the race to keep global heating to a relatively safe level of 1.5C, experts say. Although the impact will depend on implementation, China’s declaration should also help to kill off coal, which has been humanity’s primary power source for most of the last 200 years.
Xi’s declaration is likely to affect at least 54 gigawatts of China-backed coal power projects, which are in active development but not yet under construction, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Lauri Myllyvirta, the centre’s lead analyst, said this was equivalent to about three months of global emissions.
Despite the uncertainties over implementation, Myllyvirta said China’s announcement would accelerate decarbonisation. “Countries now know that going forward, there is no financing on the table for coal. That should clarify things a lot. Chinese delegates are going to visit Indonesia or Vietnam or Pakistan and they will be saying, ‘We don’t do coal any more, but we can help with clean energy.’ That will make a difference.”
The full article is available here -
And some questions arising from the policy announcement are addressed here
28) SunDrive creates sustainable, cheap solar cells with world-record efficiency.
Today, almost 95% of all photovoltaic panels are based on mono- or polycrystalline silicon cells, which use precious silver to conduct electricity.
Now, an Australian solar company, SunDrive, has created super-efficient and cheap solar panels that use more sustainable copper to pull the electrical current from the cells rather than silver. Indeed, the latest tests have shown how copper can serve as a reliable replacement but also can push the technology into new terrain, achieving a world-record efficiency for commercially-sized silicon solar cells of 25.54%. This efficiency surpassed the previous world record of 25.26%, held by LONGi Solar, the world’s leading manufacturer of monocrystalline solar modules.
“In order to limit global warming, we will need to install terawatts of solar panels. This will require a lot of metal,” said Lennon. “Silver is a limited resource, and as it becomes more and more scarce, its price will go up, so the cost of producing solar modules will rise as well. Mining silver from lower-quality ores also produces more emissions, making the problem worse.”
“Copper is much more available as a resource, it’s cheaper, and it’s also easier to recycle. The metal from copper-plated solar modules will be easier to recover from old modules and, therefore, may be more easily recycled in the future. This helps enormously from a sustainability perspective.”
The full article is available here -
Nga mihi nui, Budyong.
These newsletters are put together by Budyong Hill in an attempt to help keep Marlborough people informed of issues both global and local. The aim is help raise awareness of the myriad challenges facing the essential life support systems that our amazing planet provides for us every day.