FtF News #149 – 27th April 2022
Green policies win through, the growing size of electric vehicles and the possibilities of seaweed
Hello, and welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly rundown of the latest climate news.
The sheer breadth of the climate crisis is sometimes hard to fully take in – how fully it encompasses every sector of the economy, every community and nation. It’s clear from survey after survey that there’s a gap in public perception here too – whilst many people can identify actions that help the planet, few know which are the biggest and smallest factors. As a result, I really enjoyed this interactive quiz/game by the FT that sees you play around with policies and technology choices from now to 2050 in an attempt to bring the global carbon budget to net zero – it’s a neat attempt to bridge the divide between often impenetrable IPCC reports and what really needs to happen and when!
Once again, this week’s issue was ably assisted by Syuan Ruei Chang, who contributed a number of the articles and stories featured this week.
State of the world
Climate research and findings, weather events and studies
Copernicus Climate Change Service this week released their annual report, summarising the wild weather seen across Europe last year. Overall, 2021 was the hottest European summer on record, clocking in a full 1°C above the average of the previous 30 years. Numerous temperature records fell across the continent, and devastating wildfires swept across much of southern Europe. Of course, the year also included the massive floods that impacted Germany and much of western Europe, bringing home the climate crisis to many who thought themselves well removed from its effects.
Whilst practical tests of solar geoengineering remain in limbo, a recent paper looked into the impacts of applying such techniques, and found that, even leaving aside other unknowns, the tech could prove an environmental ‘trolley’ problem. Essentially, whilst lowering temperatures would save many lives and improve conditions for many more people, across a number of nations it would actually bring temperatures back down into a range ideal for mosquitoes, potentially exposing many more people to malaria than in a baseline scenario.
A study into the effects of pesticide use in the US has found that people of colour and low-income communities are disproportionately affected. The research looked at 14 markers for harmful pesticides, and 12 of them were found at levels up to 5x those in white Americans. The vast majority of agriculture workers in the US are Hispanic, and EPA rules on the chemicals specifically exclude farm-workers from protection.
Research looking at insect records has found a significant link between both climate warming and high-intensity agriculture and insect loss. In the worst affected areas, numbers of insects have fallen by 49%, whilst the number of species has dropped by 29%. Some species were much more affected than others, and there is some evidence to suggest that mildly affected areas were helped by areas of unaffected natural habitat nearby.
Moving towards a greener and more equitable world
Green to Win
Particularly in light of the invasion of Ukraine, there’s been political pushback on green measures, however it seems that at least in some areas, politicians are majorly misreading how much people support green parties and measures. Green politics have played more significant roles in elections across Europe, and the recent Slovenian election saw the incumbent populist leader fall to an environmentalist party that was a newcomer to the political scene. Meanwhile, in the UK, some in the Conservative Party are arguing for the country to ditch its net-zero plans and policies – a move that a recent study estimated could lose them as many as 1.3m voters at a time where faith in the party is already dwindling. Whilst strident voices are still arguing against climate action, it seems that increasingly they are a vocal minority.
Funding the Future
Carbon capture has long been contentious, with some voices arguing it gives licence to emitters to carry on business as usual. However, given our current global trajectory, increasingly it looks as though regardless of how we act, we will need significant carbon drawdown to keep warming to reasonable levels. However, current permanent carbon sequestration suffers from high costs and low volume, limiting its rollout. This week saw the announcement of the $925m Frontier Fund, a tech-funded collaboration that guarantees capacity purchase of carbon capture efforts in a bid to scale and accelerate the growth of this sorely-needed sector.
Events that move the needle in the wrong direction
EVs are definitely having their moment of late, with growth figures particularly in Europe and China skyrocketing in the last year. However, there’s also been a major shift towards SUVs alongside this move, and new EV models are growing ever larger. This trend is most apparent in the US, with electric pickups from Ford, Rivian and others, and recently the new electric Hummer – a vast, 4 ton behemoth. Whilst these vehicles in their electric forms are undoubtedly more environmentally friendly than their fossil-fuelled equivalents, they still have significant impact. Battery manufacturers are scaling up at an immense pace to try and supply the electric revolution, but when a new electric pickup has a battery three times larger than a ‘conventional’ EV, it seems worth asking – should we really be making these electric goliaths or more smaller vehicles?
Interesting deep-dives into climate-related topics
Seaweed has huge possibilities in a host of fields, but whilst it is farmed and grown in large quantities in Asia, efforts in Europe have mostly been fairly slow. However, that might be about to change, as more projects are realising its potential for everything from alternative protein for foods to a source of bioplastics and much more. Many challenges still remain though, from harvesting seaweed in a less labour-intensive fashion to figuring out how best to efficiently process it.
China is not a country that acts by halves. Under Mao, the country saw huge agricultural expansion to exploit the country’s bountiful ‘black soil’, particularly in the north east, solving hunger problems and turning the region into the country’s breadbasket. Decades of heavy agricultural exploitation have, however, started depleting the once-rich soil, and now China faces the prospect that without action, the black soil could be a thing of the past. Once again, a new wave of agricultural change is sweeping through, this time working on sustainable farming that can maintain the output needed whilst allowing the soil a chance to recover and replenish.
Some quick climate news nuggets to sate your appetite
Twitter has announced it will ban advertisements that deny climate science, in a (small) step forward for the platform.
The Mediterranean’s first wind farm is now operational and producing power – a 30MW installation off the Italian coast.