Category Archives: Nature

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>

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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>

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

Protecting people from a changing climate: The case for resilience
Our new study lays bare the potential impact of climate risks for people across the globe—and underscores the need to protect the most vulnerable and build resilience.
By Harry Bowcott, Lori Fomenko, Alastair Hamilton, Mekala Krishnan, Mihir Mysore, Alexis Trittipo, and Oliver Walker – The United Nations’ 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated—with higher confidence than ever before—that, without meaningful decarbonization, global temperatures will rise to at least 1.5°C above preindustrial levels within the next two decades.1 This could have potentially dangerous and irreversible effects. A better understanding of how a changing climate could affect people around the world is a necessary first step toward defining solutions for protecting communities and building resilience.

As part of our knowledge partnership with Race to Resilience at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, we have built a detailed, global assessment of the number of people exposed to four key physical climate hazards, primarily under two different warming scenarios. This paper lays out our methodology and our conclusions from this independent assessment.

Our findings suggest the following conclusions:

  • Under a scenario with 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2030, almost half of the world’s population could be exposed to a climate hazard related to heat stress, drought, flood, or water stress in the next decade, up from 43 percent today3 —and almost a quarter of the world’s population would be exposed to severe hazards. (For detailed explanations of these hazards and how we define “severe,” see sidebar “A climate risk analysis focused on people: Our methodology in brief.”)
  • Indeed, as severe climate events become more common, even in a scenario where the world reaches 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2050 rather than 2030, nearly one in four people could be exposed to a severe climate hazard that could affect their lives or livelihoods.
  • Climate hazards are unevenly distributed.

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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>

Are “net-zero” climate targets just hot air?

The US, Australia, Japan, and even Saudi Arabia are aiming for net-zero. Does it mean anything?
By Umair Irfan – Corporations and countries around the world are promising to eliminate their contributions to climate change. But many of their targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are prefaced by a slippery phrase: “net-zero.”

More than 130 countries have set or are considering net-zero emissions goals, and many are stepping up as they prepare for next week’s COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. The United StatesNew ZealandCosta RicaJapan, and Argentina all aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The European Union aims to be “climate-neutral,” another way of framing net-zero. Even Russia and Saudi Arabia (the world’s top oil exporter) now have net-zero emissions targets.

Private companies are getting into the game, too. At least 20 percent of the 2,000 largest companies have set net-zero emissions targets, including giants like Apple, Ford, and Microsoft.

But “net-zero” is different from zero emissions, and this nebulous term can obscure a lot of important differences in how countries and companies actually plan to limit their contributions to climate change.

There are no standards that govern what activities actually count as net-zero. “The ‘net’ is always there in front of the ‘zero,’ but the ‘net’ part is a bit vague, especially with country-level commitments,” Derik Broekhoff, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told Vox.

When a country aims for net-zero emissions — as opposed to simply zero emissions — it’s essentially promising to balance out its climate pollution, so that overall, it doesn’t harm the global climate. 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>

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Meet General Electric’s flexible power transformer

By Ben Geman – A Mississippi utility is installing what’s being billed as “the world’s first large flexible transformer” — an Energy Department-backed project aimed at boosting grid resilience and smoothing integration of renewables.

Driving the news: GE Research and Prolec GE, working with the Mississippi power company Cooperative Energy, this morning are announcing the launch of a six-month field demonstration at a big substation in Columbia, Mississippi.

Why it matters: The “flexible” transformer has advantages over traditional models customized to specific voltage levels and other conditions, the companies and DOE said.

The big picture: The companies, which released this video promo, said it can better withstand extreme weather and is also an easier and faster replacement when extreme weather has damaged a traditional transformer. more>

With extreme weather events and other disasters on the rise, how well are Americans prepared?

By Drew Desilver – Powerful stormswildfiresheat waves and other extreme climate-related events are projected to become more common and affect more people. According to a recent Washington Post analysis, nearly a third of Americans live in a county that was struck by a weather disaster this past summer, and around two-thirds live in places that experienced a multiday heat wave. In an April Pew Research Center survey, half of Americans said their area had experienced extreme weather over the past year.

Human-caused climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent and more damaging in the coming decades, according to the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While the nations of the world struggle to agree on how to address the root causes of climate change, there are various ways people can prepare to deal with the immediate effects on a household level.

This analysis examines the prevalence of four specific tools to endure extreme weather in the United States: flood insurance, air conditioning, portable generators and home insulation. (As we’ll see, some of these tools may have their own climate impacts.) more>

Want to Try a New Ride Into Space? Fly a 3D Printed Rocket

3D printing may offer a way of building a rocket with a fast manufacturing turnaround and less cost than traditional manufacturing.
By Rob Spiegel – 3D printing may offer a way of building a rocket with a fast manufacturing turnaround and less cost than traditional manufacturing.

Soon, the quickest and cheapest ride into space may not be in the hands of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, or Blue Origin. It may be in the hands of a 3D printing company.

3D printing may offer a way of building a rocket with a fast manufacturing turnaround and less cost than traditional manufacturing.

Soon, the quickest and cheapest ride into space may not be in the hands of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, or Blue Origin. It may be in the hands of a 3D printing company.

Relativity Space is an L.A.-based American aerospace manufacturer founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone. Relativity Space is developing manufacturing technologies, launch vehicles, and rocket engines for commercial orbital launch services using 3D printing. more>