Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Updates from Georgia Tech

Underwater Gardens Boost Coral Diversity to Stave Off ‘Biodiversity Meltdown’
By Renay San Miguel – Corals are the foundation species of tropical reefs worldwide, but stresses ranging from overfishing to pollution to warming oceans are killing corals and degrading the critical ecosystem services they provide. Because corals build structures that make living space for many other species, scientists have known that losses of corals result in losses of other reef species. But the importance of coral species diversity for corals themselves was less understood.

A new study from two researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology provides both hope and a potentially grim future for damaged coral reefs. In their research paper, “Biodiversity has a positive but saturating effect on imperiled coral reefs,” published October 13 in Science AdvancesCody Clements and Mark Hay found that increasing coral richness by ‘outplanting’ a diverse group of coral species together improves coral growth and survivorship. This finding may be especially important in the early stages of reef recovery following large-scale coral loss — and in supporting healthy reefs that in turn support fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection from storm surges. more>

Related>

Fixing climate finance

Finance was at the heart of the COP26 rupture between developed and developing countries—it’s time for a new approach.
By Jeffrey D Sachs – The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) fell far short of what is needed for a safe planet, owing mainly to the lack of trust which has burdened global climate negotiations for almost three decades. Developing countries regard climate change as a crisis caused largely by the rich countries, which they also view as shirking their historical and ongoing responsibility for the crisis. Worried that they will be left paying the bills, many key developing countries, such as India, don’t much care to negotiate or strategise.

They have a point—indeed, several points. The shoddy behaviour of the United States over three decades is not lost on them. Despite the worthy pleas for action by the US president, Joe Biden, and the climate envoy, John Kerry, Biden has been unable to push Congress to adopt a clean-energy standard. Biden can complain all he wants about China but after 29 years of congressional inaction, since the Senate ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the rest of the world sees the truth: America’s broken and corrupt Congress remains in the pocket of Big Oil and Big Coal.

Finance is at the heart of the geopolitical rupture on climate change. Developing countries are already reeling under countless pressures: the Covid-19 pandemic, weak domestic economies, increasingly frequent and severe climate-related disasters, the multiple disruptions of the digital age, US-China tensions and high borrowing costs on international loans. They watch the rich countries borrow trillions of dollars on capital markets at near-zero interest rates, while they must pay 5-10 per cent if they can borrow at all. In short, they see their societies falling even further behind a few high-income countries. more>

Updates from McKinsey

The rise and rise of the global balance sheet: How productively are we using our wealth?
Net worth has tripled since 2000, but the increase mainly reflects valuation gains in real assets, especially real estate, rather than investment in productive assets that drive our economies.
By Jonathan Woetzel, Jan Mischke, Anu Madgavkar, Eckart Windhagen, Sven Smit, Michael Birshan, Szabolcs Kemeny, and Rebecca J. Anderson – We have borrowed a page from the corporate world—namely, the balance sheet—to take stock of the underlying health and resilience of the global economy as it begins to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. This view from the balance sheet complements more typical approaches based on GDP, capital investment levels, and other measures of economic flows that reflect changes in economic value. Our report, The rise of the global balance sheet: How productively are we using our wealth?, provides an in-depth look at the global economy after two decades of financial turbulence and more than ten years of heavy central bank intervention, punctuated by the pandemic.

Across ten countries that account for about 60 percent of global GDP—Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the historic link between the growth of net worth and the growth of GDP no longer holds. While economic growth has been tepid over the past two decades in advanced economies, balance sheets and net worth that have long tracked it have tripled in size. This divergence emerged as asset prices rose—but not as a result of 21st-century trends like the growing digitization of the economy.

Rather, in an economy increasingly propelled by intangible assets like software and other intellectual property, a glut of savings has struggled to find investments offering sufficient economic returns and lasting value to investors. These savings have found their way instead into real estate, which in 2020 accounted for two-thirds of net worth. Other fixed assets that can drive economic growth made up only about 20 percent the total. Moreover, asset values are now nearly 50 percent higher than the long-run average relative to income. And for every $1 in net new investment over the past 20 years, overall liabilities have grown by almost $4, of which about $2 is debt. more>

Should humans try to modify the amount of sunlight the Earth receives?

By Daniel Ross – Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes. As scientists, policymakers and politicians keep one increasingly startled eye on climate change’s ticking clock and the other on the ongoing, upwardly mobile trend in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s no wonder possible solutions that have been long dismissed as fringe slices of science fiction are making their way into the mainstream.

Enter center stage geoengineering, a hitherto black sheep of the fight against global warming.

Geoengineering is a broadly encompassing term with a few close etymological cousins—namely climate engineering and climate change mitigation—along with a sizable stable of associated technologies. Some of them, like afforestation and ocean iron fertilization, fall under the umbrella of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in that they seek to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But these are techniques that would in all likelihood shift the climate change needle relatively slowly.

In comparison, technologies under the rubric of solar radiation management (SRM) are expected to work on a much faster timescale, and as a consequence, generate arguably the greater buzz. Solar engineering is the idea that humankind artificially limits how much sunlight and heat are permitted in the atmosphere, and includes the thinning of high-level cirrus clouds to help infrared rays more easily escape upward, along with the brightening of low-level marine clouds to help reflect sunlight back into space. more>

Updates from McKinsey

The energy transition unfolds
The transition to zero-carbon energy isn’t going to be a single shift, but a set of interrelated, system-level shifts. What will it take to get things moving quickly toward net-zero emissions?
McKinsey –  Decarbonizing the world’s economy will largely be a matter of overhauling the global energy system. And the necessary changes made to policies, technology, finance, and business models will affect the way that all individuals and all institutions produce and use energy.

Today McKinsey convened leaders from different points in the energy system to share observations on the state of the energy transition and the factors that might accelerate it. A few of the comments made during the session, edited for clarity, appear below. A full replay of today’s session can be found here.

Charting green hydrogen’s path to affordability: “The starting point is stone age: little [electrolyzer] units made by hand welding and hand cutting. The minute we are able to automate a process, with robotic welding machines and long factories assembling fast, phenomenal scale will come in. In renewable energy, the price has come down. Producers still need to bring down the cost of the electrolyzer and the balance of the system. We are very confident. … There is no reason why green hydrogen cannot end up competing with gray hydrogen. No reason whatsoever.”
—Paddy Padmanathan, president and CEO, ACWA Power

Rethinking the financial risk of new technologies: “We’ve had a long period when the perceived risk associated with new solutions for the climate problem has been higher than it really is. Now we’re starting to get to a point where that is tipping. It’s becoming obvious how carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and direct-air capture are fitting into the climate equation. And therefore finance can start to factor them into credible transition pathways for clients.”
—Zoë Knight, managing director and group head, Centre of Sustainable Finance, HSBC more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Don’t rely on central banks to fight climate change
By Jeff Cockrell – In late August, five members of the US House of Representatives issued a statement urging President Joe Biden not to reappoint Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, when his term expires in February 2022. The group, which included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat of New York), cited two concerns with Powell’s leadership: the Fed’s relaxation of banking regulations and its lack of action “to mitigate the risk climate change poses to our financial system.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow members of Congress are not the first to suggest that central banks—whose policies have traditionally focused on objectives such as price stability and low unemployment—have a role to play in fighting climate change. The British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has encouraged the Bank of England to conduct its bond purchases with borrowers’ carbon emissions in mind. Many central banks themselves have also accepted some responsibility for fighting climate change: the European Central Bank says it is “committed to taking the impact of climate change into consideration in our monetary policy framework.”

But Chicago Booth’s Lars Peter Hansen cautions that monetary policy is a weak substitute for fiscal policy, which is far better suited to address climate change through tools such as carbon taxation and investment in green technologies. Asking central bankers to step in where fiscal policy makers can’t or won’t risks exposing central banks to reputational damage and a loss of political independence, he argues. more>

Related>

Dangerous Environmental Changes Are Here. Do We Act or Remain Afraid?

IPCC 6th Assessment confirms the environmental peril in all too specific details. But what we do with that information is up to us.
By John Blyler – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the first portion of its Sixth Assessment Report on how climate change is altering the planet’s natural systems and environmental states. These changes are leading to worsening extreme weather events around the world.

The IPCC’s periodic reports are drafted by a consortium of the world’s top climate scientists and experts. The purpose of their work is to establish a technical foundation for policymakers to address climate change on multiple fronts, such as mitigation, adaptation, and assessing future risks.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the first portion of its Sixth Assessment Report on how climate change is altering the planet’s natural systems and environmental states. These changes are leading to worsening extreme weather events around the world.

The IPCC’s periodic reports are drafted by a consortium of the world’s top climate scientists and experts. The purpose of their work is to establish a technical foundation for policymakers to address climate change on multiple fronts, such as mitigation, adaptation, and assessing future risks.

This gallery highlights only some of the takeaways and how technology can help. These summaries present a grim finding but not one without hope. more>

How Carbon Farming Can Help Save the Earth

Regenerative farming can help boost crop yields and fight climate change, and one nonprofit plans to incentivize more farmers to make the switch.
Morgan Stanley – Starting in late 2018, Al Gore’s Caney Fork Farms in Carthage, Tenn. started a research collaboration and gathered a group of scientists to tackle a challenge: Figure out how to use the earth itself to fight climate change by creating a systematic, scalable approach for farmers to better use soil to capture carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, while also boosting crop yields and profitability.

Two of those scientists who took up the gauntlet were Dr. Bruno Basso, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science, and Dr. Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Skidmore College. They went on to cofound My Soil Organic Carbon, or MySOC, a nonprofit that aims to create a database of soil carbon for farmland across the U.S., while providing farmers with low-cost tools to collect and analyze their soil samples for crop production and carbon sequestration farming, while modeling prospects for more profitability.

By giving farmers access to standardized data from their own farms and those of their peers, MySOC aims to persuade more food producers to choose regenerative-agriculture methods that can help the world attain net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, vs. more carbon-intensive traditional techniques. MySOC is also an inaugural member of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing’s Sustainable Solutions Collaborative, an initiative that helps scale sustainability innovations that can benefit from partnerships across private and public industries. more>

America is still stuck in the world 9/11 built

By Sean Illing – Did 9/11 pave the way for Donald Trump?

That’s a big question, and until I read Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How 9/11 Destabilized America and Produced Trump, I hadn’t really thought about it. Ackerman is a longtime national security journalist who’s covered the “war on terror” since its inception roughly two decades ago.

Ackerman’s answer to the above question is yes, but his thesis is even more pointed: The war on terror — and the panoply of excesses it unleashed — eroded the institutional armor of American democracy and left the country defenseless against its own pathologies. And those pathologies, which Ackerman lays out with meticulous attention, prepared the ground for a figure like Trump.

Reading Ackerman’s book was a bit of a whirlwind. I was 19 years old when the Twin Towers fell. I’ll never forget watching the planes hit the wall. I’ll never forget how confused and angry I was. And I’ll never forget the thoughts running through my mind as I realized I was heading to boot camp in just four months. more>

Space Market Is Poised for Growth. But What Industries Will Benefit First?

Everyone wants a piece of the new space race action. AIAA ASCEND may help break it down.
By John Blyler – Space seems to be the new black. Everyone wants to be a part of the current “space race.” A new awareness of our extra-terrestrial potential is emerging from the amazing crafts that take us into the earth’s orbit and beyond to the structures that will be needed to support humans on other planets.

The space market has also become a growth engine for the high-tech industry. In contrast to the last space race, today’s launch costs are down. Technological advances and public interest mean space exploration is well on course to be the next trillion-dollar industry.

Add to this growing list of supporters is a community called ASCEND, whose sole mission is to build humanity’s off-world future faster. Recently, they premiered “Fast Forward” – an original on-demand interview series featuring champions of industries pursuing large-scale growth in space.

Powered by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), ASCEND was launched in 2020 to Accelerate Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery. ASCEND’s centerpiece annual event will convene this November. Join the conversation live in Las Vegas and Washington, DC, and online everywhere during November. nore>